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Pessimists vs Realists - And Why Optimists are Better

There’s a debate among a certain subset of people on which mindset is better – pessimists or realists. For various reasons, those folks have often already dismissed the optimism option as too woo or pollyanna-ish, or worst: too soft - to be fair this mindset can be rooted in trauma-response to self-protect... However, it's worth noting that this reasoning also pops up in more deeply rooted toxicity, specifically: misogynistic outlooks - as though women, in all their flowery vulnerability, can afford to be optimistic, but ("real") men see things how they really are, with their feet firmly planted in strength and reality to deal with it all. (Feel free to insert caveman sounds and eye roll emoji here.)

Some people think that being a pessimist better helps you to prepare for the worst-case scenario. On the other hand, some individuals believe in the realism theory and its importance in practical life. The bigger issue is that this is about mindset. Think of mindset as a filter through which you see the world. Like a filter on a photo or video, that makes it look a little different - gives it a different vibe or mood. In this case, the realists and pessimists are quite closely aligned in their filter: let's use the old glass half (full/empty) analogy:

  1. pessimists see that glass as simply half empty

  2. realists see the glass as having been full but someone drank half of it and now it's half empty

  3. Optimists, on the hand, see the glass as half full (whether someone drank half of it or not)

If we dig a little deeper, we start to see that "realists" are often actually pessimists disguised as deep thinkers... negativity wrapped up in a shinier package. The reasoning seems to be that "because they are putting more thought into it," they don't want to be reduced to a simple binary (positive vs negative) label, but oftentimes their 'realism' narrative is really a justification for regular, old-fashioned pessimism.

(talks about goal)

That's never going to happen.

Stop being so negative!

I'm not being negative, I'm just being realistic. Look at the odds... It's not probable.

Soare they realists or pessimists? Here's the BIG secret: "Realists" aren't actually on the same spectrum as optimism and pessimism! (Mind blown for some...) To say "I'm not a pessimist, I'm a realist" is to (incorrectly) imply that realism is somewhere on the spectrum away from pessimism but nowhere near the fluffy clouds of optimism. But this theory doesn't hold water, whether half full or not:

The opposite of pessimism is optimism. There is a spectrum between the two but those are the two options. At one end the glass is half empty full, and at the other end, it's half full. Either way, it's half.

The opposite of realism is unrealism. Again, there's a spectrum: at the realistic end, in the most neutral of terms, the glass contains 50% of its capacity, and at the other unrealistic end, the glass is an illusion.

The point here is that you can be an optimist and a realist at the same time, just like you can be a pessimist and a realist.

You can also be either optimistic or pessimistic and be rooted in unrealistic thinking -- we've probably all met those "magical thinkers" at one point or another, where the whole world's about to open up for them, or they're always on the verge of making it big or coming up with the next great idea - when, in reality, they're no closer than anyone else... "Magical Thinkers" are optimists not grounded in reality - we may love their optimism but without a dose of reality, the only chance they have is luck. Conversely, pessimists not grounded in reality show up in other ways, like conspiracy theorists, where they can't prove the theory but they believe it and it's really terrible. Either way, these are both really difficult people to be around for extended periods of time.

When it comes to choosing mindset though, it's not just a question of whether someone feels good to be around or not... According to studies and research, being optimistic is literally the best approach to living a healthier life, even living longer.

Optimists Have Better Mental Health

Optimists tend to live in a state of positive thought processes by expecting the best outcome in any situation, even the worst. Because of this, optimists are less likely to experience depression, anxiety, or other types of mental illnesses. Since they are wired for positivity, they’re more likely to choose to see the good in things rather than over-emphasize the bad. By having a positive outlook on life, optimists also find it easier to overcome obstacles in their life.

Optimism Has Positive Effects on Physical Health

It’s no secret that your mental health and physical health are linked. When you’re feeling good on the inside, it’s easier to maintain a healthy body and vice versa. Optimism plays a significant role in promoting physical health as it reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease, regulates blood sugar levels, and lowers stress- a toxic hormone that causes a handful of ailments.

Better Relationships

Optimists build better relationships as having a positive disposition makes them more approachable, friendly, and compassionate. These qualities tend to attract individuals and foster deeper and more meaningful connections. Additionally, optimists understand the importance of good relationships and see conflict as an opportunity for growth instead of a personal attack.

Resilience is a Key Factor

Challenges are a part of life, and when faced with adversity, optimists have the upper hand. They don’t give up easily, and their positive mindset allows them to find creative and effective solutions to problems. Optimists understand that failing is a stepping stone to success and embrace every challenge head-on.

Success is the Norm

Optimistic individuals are more prone to succeed in their careers and life in general as they have a go-getting nature. Optimists will pursue their goals with a focused mindset and are less likely to be discouraged by obstacles. This, in turn, leads to more innovation and success.


Pessimists may say that they are being realistic about life, but in reality, they are not. A positive outlook on things is a more accurate representation of how life is. Being joyful and having a positive mindset is just as much a part of reality as hardships and obstacles. Optimists may not be naive, but instead, they navigate life with a sense of wonderment and possibility. In essence, an optimistic outlook is a character trait worth cultivating. So if you’re ever stuck between choosing a pessimistic approach or realistic one, remember that the glass is half-full.



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