5 Ways That Pessimism Can Harm You- And 5 Ways To Cultivate Optimism

Updated May 9, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Pessimism can be defined as a person’s tendency to assume the worst and see the worst outlook on things. A pessimistic person may lack hope and confidence, and retain doubts about the future, even if there’s no reason to have them. Sometimes those labeled pessimistic have trouble seeing any good in other people, themselves, or the world. 

Some people defend their pessimist personality traits by speaking about incidents in the past where they perceived it helped them. They might say something like, “Well, I didn’t expect to have a good time, so when I did, it was a pleasant surprise.” While that may apply to some situations, when we enter a situation with a negative mindset, it often becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. You expect to have a bad time, so you don’t engage in the activity enough to enjoy it. This is how pessimism 'wins' -- we allow our negative thoughts to become true, and then our pessimism grows stronger over time.

5 Ways Pessimism Can Be Damaging To Your Daily Life

Being pessimistic can have a markedly negative impact on different areas of life, including in our relationships, at work, in social situations and more. If you think you may be a pessimist, or you’re close to someone who is, here are a few things to consider: 

You Can Shift Your Attitude And Perspective

1. A Pessimistic Attitude Can Hurt Your Relationships

It can be very difficult to have a relationship with a pessimistic person. People who are chronically pessimistic often have a hard time trusting other people. As a result, pessimists assume the worst in others, sometimes making unfair accusations and fabricating things that support their pessimistic point of view.

It’s also hard for pessimistic people to plan the future with others because they usually expect something bad to happen that will ruin the relationship. it’s difficult to have hope for the future if you’re in a relationship with a pessimistic person- many people end up leaving because they want to know where the relationship is headed.

It’s also challenging to have a relationship with a pessimist because they may not show their true feelings easily. They may refrain from letting others know how they feel to defend themselves, even if it’s something positive that would make their partner happy. Also, sometimes, pessimists may feel that it’s pointless to work on relationship difficulties because they assume it wasn’t going to work out anyway.

2. Pessimism Can Hurt Your Physical Health

Scientists have long established that there is a mind/body connection that ties our thoughts closely with our physical health. When you have a pessimistic attitude, it may hurt both your physical and mental health. The correlation isn’t only physiological- but the behavioral ramifications of pessimism may also have a negative impact on health. For example, studies have found that pessimistic people are less likely to diet, exercise, or see a doctor when they need. They are also more likely to smoke. 

One Finnish study connecting pessimism to physical health followed over 2,000 people over a period of 11 years. These people were initially given 6 statements to rank on a scale of how they thought that the statement applied to them personally. There were positive and negative statements. At the end of the study, there were 122 people that had died over 11 years from coronary heart disease. The researchers took into effect things like diabetes, smoking, and other risk factors, and determined that the people who scored with a high level of pessimism were twice as likely to die of heart disease.

3. A Pessimistic Mentality Can Hurt Your Career

A pessimistic attitude can be a big drawback in the workplace. There have been studies testing the differences between a pessimist and an optimistic attitude in the workforce that show it’s far more beneficial to have an optimistic attitude in your career. Pessimistic people are more likely to give up when they encounter a difficult situation at work, are less likely to learn valuable lessons from their mistakes at work, and are more likely to create unwanted workforce drama

4. Pessimism Affects Self-Esteem And Confidence

Pessimistic people are not just hard on other people; they are hard on themselves, too. Some people were not pessimistic from the start- they developed these tendencies and thought processes after experiencing hurtful situations in their life. After constant disappointment or hurt by others, it may be tempting to decide that it’s easier to expect the worst from the start. To defend themselves from further pain in the future, a pessimist may behave in ways that backfire and hurt them even more. They're a "glass half empty" type of person.

5. Pessimism Is Harmful To Your Mental Health

Although it isn’t technically a mental health disorder, pessimistic behaviors may closely mimic symptoms of anxiety, depression, and more. Pessimistic thoughts and emotions are unhealthy and can cause suffering for those who experience them. If you are struggling with anxiety, worry, anger, rage, or depression, you can speak to a professional therapist to help transform your pessimistic attitude. They can help you identify areas that are triggering your pessimism and help you to overcome them.

5 Tips For Cultivating Optimism

Even if you don’t think it’s possible, it’s important to understand that you can make a positive change in your life, regardless of how long you’ve been a pessimist. Becoming a more optimistic person can transform your life in many ways. As you begin to look for the good in situations instead of the bad, you may begin to see the good and become more optimistic. 

  1. Slow Down And Recognize When Things Go Well.

Learning to slow down and pay attention to your surroundings can help you see them as they really are. Although things may not be perfect, when you’re mindful of what’s happening around you, you’ll likely find things aren’t as bad as you interpreted. 

  1. Focus On Your Successes.

When we’re looking for problems, it’s distracting from the things that go well. For each thing that doesn’t go the way you want, there’s probably at least one thing that does. 

  1. Be Honest About Your Shortcomings- And Remember That They Can Be Changed. 

While it’s beneficial to focus on your successes, it isn’t helpful to deny the things about you that may be opportunities for improvement. Everyone makes mistakes, and it’s important to allow yourself to do the same without criticism. Remember that shortcomings can be changed.  

  1. Try To Avoid Ruminating About The Future.

A hallmark of pessimism is the tendency to worry about the future. Try to remember that the future isn’t certain, and it isn’t helpful to assume things won’t work out when we can’t read the future. Focusing on the present is a good strategy for avoiding rumination about the future. 

  1. Communicate With Someone Who Can Support Your Journey. 

Negative personal constructs of the world can produce difficult emotions that can feel isolating. It may seem like no one understands your point of view or what you’re feeling, but it’s important to remember that you’re not alone. Confide in someone you trust about your efforts to improve your outlook. Their support will likely help provide you with a lifeline to positivity. 

You Can Shift Your Attitude And Perspective


Pessimism doesn’t just negatively affect the person struggling with it- but also the people around them. It can cause relationship problems, problems at work, social difficulties, and more. Because of the potential damage it can cause, it’s important for people who identify as pessimistic to seek help from a mental health professional. 

Even though help is available, many people choose not to seek therapy. The reasons for this are varied. Some people feel they won’t be able to afford therapy or find time for it in their busy schedules. Some people can't get mental health professionals close by or are worried about issues of information because of the stigma sometimes associated with getting psychological help. 

Many people choose online therapy as a solution to these obstacles. Online platforms like BetterHelp can connect you with a licensed, accredited therapist with experience treating people with anxiety, depression, personality disorders, and more. Research shows that online therapy platforms can provide beneficial tools for those experiencing difficult-to-process feelings associated with pessimism. For example, in a study published in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, researchers examined the effects of an online psychological intervention on individuals described as pessimistic. Researchers found that the online treatment helped increase feelings of optimism, happiness, and self-esteem, and could improve overall psychological well-being. 

Online platforms allow individuals to remotely avail valuable resources, such as interactive exercises, audio and video educational files, and counseling services, in order to help reinforce important concepts and ideas. Similar studies have found that online therapy is more available than in-person therapy due to its cost-effectiveness, flexibility, and mitigation of perceived stigma.

With online counseling through BetterHelp, you’ll have the option of interacting with your counselor from the comfort of your home—no more dealing with traffic, sitting in a waiting room, or skipping your lunch. 

Read below for counselor reviews from those who have experienced similar issues.

“She has been amazing. She has helped me in such a short time have an optimistic outlook on life on a whole new level.”

“I’ve only had a couple of sessions so far, but it’s clear that she is experienced and knows her field. I’m already feeling more optimistic as we begin my journey to a happier life.”

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