Most see people in the world as either optimists or pessimists when there are many blends and variations of each. But what if a third and better way of being existed? It does! Let's explore optimism, pessimism, and this third way of being to see what each can add to your life.
The view of the optimist
Aren't you thankful for those who see many things in a positive light? It can be uplifting to be around optimistic people, so long as they are grounded in reality.
"I am glad I am an optimist. The pessimist is half-licked before he starts. The optimist has won half the battle, the most important half that applies to himself, when he begins his approach to a subject with the proper mental attitude." Thomas Buckner (1941-present)
I love the simple definition of an optimist in the Oxford Dictionary:
Optimist (noun) - a person who tends to be hopeful and confident about the future or the success of something.
What isn't good about being hopeful and confident about the future? Doesn't it sound preferable to being hopeless and unsure or doubtful about what is to come?
All optimists are not the same. Are you familiar with the term realistic optimism? What would optimism be if it were not grounded in reality? The opposite of being grounded in reality is to be an unrealistic optimist. These are the "pie in the sky" optimists that give optimism a bad name.
Realistic optimism is different and creates many benefits. Besides having a better outlook for the future, a realistic optimist is more likely to have better health and greater longevity while achieving more in whatever they set their mind to do.
According to an article in Psychology Today, a large scale study shows:
"People who gave the most optimistic answers at the beginning of the study lived 11 to 15 percent longer, on average, than the pessimists. They also had greater odds of reaching 85 years old, a 50 percent boost for women and 70 percent for men." Temma Ehrenfeld in Psychology Today
A true realistic optimist will take risks as they know they must take them to grow and move forward in life. They also know failing is necessary for growth, and failing does not make them a failure.
The great thing about optimism is it is a skill that can be developed and learned. If you wish to understand the tremendous benefits of being more optimistic while working on yourself, read the groundbreaking book by Martin Seligman titled Learned Optimism.
The view of the pessimist
Did you know any skill or behavior taken to an extreme can change from a strength to a weakness? Does that mean the opposite is true as well? Can we move from the liability of being an extreme pessimist to something healthy? Absolutely!
The Oxford Dictionary definition of the pessimist is:
Pessimist (noun) - a person who tends to see the worst aspect of things or believe that the worst will happen.
Most people believe the optimist sees the glass half full while the pessimist sees it as half empty. This may be true, but each way of viewing the glass can also be true.
When you move from only paying attention to how a positive or negative person thinks and begin noticing the outcomes they produce, you will see the benefits of pessimism.
For example, it may be appropriate to see the glass as half full if you are in the process of filling it, such as when you are saving for retirement. Yet when you are already in retirement with half of your nest egg remaining, the need can be very different. This may be the time to become more conservative and see the glass as it is, half empty or half spent!
An overly optimistic person may keep spending their way to bankruptcy, while an overly pessimistic person may tighten down on spending so much they become miserable! Who wants either of those results? Better to be a realistic pessimist or realistic optimist, don't you think?
"The nice part about being a pessimist is that you are constantly being either proven right or pleasantly surprised." George Will (1941-present)
A realistic pessimist receives many of the same health and achievement benefits as a realistic optimist. The main difference between the two is the optimist is usually more decisive, while the pessimist is more cautious.
Yes, the more cautious approach of a realistic pessimist leads to better health and longer life as well. While the study previously mentioned claims optimists live longer, other studies claim the opposite! An example from recent studies was published in an Inc.com article titled The Quirky Reason That Pessimists Tend to Outlive Optimists, According to Neuroscientists. Check it out if you wish to know more.
Many of these studies do not detail each person's degree of optimism or pessimism. They simply divide people into two groups which can be unrealistic. If only life were so clear cut!
"I like pessimists. They're always the ones who bring life jackets for the boat." Lisa Kleypas (1964-present)
The view of a realist
Instead of falling into the trap of being too idealistic or overly cynical, why not strive for the realist view of life? A realist, according to the Oxford Dictionary definition is:
Realist (noun) - a person who accepts a situation as it is and is prepared to deal with it accordingly.
A realist's view is somewhat of a combination of the best of realistic optimism added to the best of realistic pessimism. By using the strengths of both optimism and pessimism, you gain the best of both worlds. My preference is the optimistic side of the realist since it has proven to work well in my life! But I want to be careful not to lean so far in that direction I lose balance and fall!
While there appear to be no studies showing a realist will live a longer, happier, more fulfilled life with greater achievement, it is easy to interpolate this from the studies on optimism and pessimism.
"The pessimist complains about the wind; the optimist expects it to change; the realist adjusts the sails." William Arthur Ward (1921-1994)
Fortunately, each of us gets to choose how we are and who we are becoming in life. Yes, extremism is always an option, yet a thoughtful person, living in the land of reality, will almost always benefit from striking a balance in their lives.
"The truth is balance. However the opposite of truth, which is unbalance, may not be a lie." Susan Sontag (1933-2004)
Where do you fall on the optimist to pessimist scale? Better yet, how would you rate yourself on the realist scale of 1 to 10, with ten being extremely realistic? For myself, I think I am in the middle, around a 5, indicating I have room to improve. But do not forget, taking any strength to an extreme can make it unhealthy. If you are like me, you want to strive to maintain a semblance of balance!