Five Ways Pessimism Can Harm You, And Five Ways To Cultivate Optimism

Medically reviewed by Melissa Guarnaccia
Updated February 22, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Pessimism is a tendency to assume the worst and focus on the most negative outcomes of situations. A pessimistic person may lack hope and confidence and retain doubts about the future, even if there isn't a reason to have these doubts. In some cases, they may struggle to see positivity in others, themselves, or the world. 

Some may defend their pessimistic personality traits by speaking about incidents in the past where they perceived that these traits helped them. They might say, "Expecting the worst made me pleasantly surprised when it didn't happen." While this outlook may apply to some situations, some situations can be worsened by a negative mindset or a lack of motivation. For example, you might expect to hate an activity and refuse to put the effort in, not immersing yourself in the possibility of enjoyment. 

Understanding how pessimism can harm mental and physical health can be the first step to deciding to opt for a more optimistic mindset. 

Getty/AnnaStills
You can shift your attitude and perspective

Five ways pessimism can be damaging

Pessimism can negatively impact different areas of life, including relationships, work, social situations, and self-fulfillment. If you think you may be a pessimist or are close to someone who is, below are five ways this mindset may damage your mental and physical health.  

A pessimistic attitude can hurt your relationships

It can be challenging for optimistic people to maintain a relationship with a pessimistic person. Chronically pessimistic people may struggle to trust their partners. As a result, pessimists assume the worst in others, sometimes making unfair accusations and fabricating ideas supporting their pessimistic viewpoint.

It may also be difficult for pessimistic people to plan for the future because they may expect the relationship to end. Having hope for the future can be difficult if you're in a relationship with a pessimistic person. Others may want to know where the relationship is headed and discuss happy ideas instead of focusing on the worst-case scenario. 

Pessimists may also struggle to show their true emotions, refraining from letting others know how they feel to protect themselves from assumed future hurt. Pessimists may believe working on relationship difficulties is pointless because they assume it won't work out. To an optimist, this lack of motivation may be seen as a lack of love or care. 

Pessimism can harm your physical health

Scientists have long established proof of a mind-body connection that ties thoughts to physical health. When you have a pessimistic attitude, it may hurt your physical and mental health. The behavioral ramifications of pessimism may harm health. For example, studies have found that pessimistic people are less likely to diet, exercise, or see a doctor when they experience symptoms of an illness. They are also more likely to smoke. 

One Finnish study connecting pessimism to physical health followed over 2,000 people over 11 years. These people were initially given six statements to rank related to how much they thought the statement applied to them personally. There were positive and negative statements. At the end of the study, 122 people had died over 11 years from coronary heart disease. The researchers considered diabetes, smoking, and other risk factors and determined that those who scored highly in pessimism were twice as likely to die of heart disease.

A pessimistic mentality can hurt your career

A pessimistic attitude can be a drawback in the workplace. Studies have previously tested the differences between a pessimistic and optimistic attitude in the workforce, proving it more beneficial to have an optimistic attitude in your career. Pessimistic participants were likelier to give up when they encountered a difficult situation at work, less likely to learn valuable lessons from their mistakes, and more likely to create unwanted workforce drama.

Pessimism can affect self-esteem and confidence

Pessimistic people may not only act pessimistically toward others but to themselves, too. Some people may not have been pessimistic initially but developed these tendencies and thought processes after experiencing hurtful situations. After constant disappointment or hurt by others, deciding that it's easier to expect the worst from the start may be tempting. 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.

Pessimism can harm your mental health

Although it isn't a mental illness, pessimistic behaviors may mimic symptoms of anxiety, depression, and other conditions. Pessimistic thoughts are often unhealthy and can cause emotional pain. If you are living with anxiety, worry, anger, rage, or depression, speaking to a professional therapist may be beneficial to transform your pessimistic attitude. They can help you identify areas that are inciting your pessimism and help you overcome them.

Rawpixel

Five tips for cultivating optimism

Even if it feels impossible, it can be possible to make a positive change in your life, regardless of how long you've been a pessimist. Becoming a more optimistic person can transform your mental, emotional, physical, and social health. Below are five ways to cultivate optimism daily.  

Slow down and recognize what goes well 

Slowing down and paying attention to your surroundings can help you see them as they are. Try to assign facts to situations instead of assuming the worst. Although a situation or environment may not be perfect, mindfulness can increase your appreciation for what is beautiful and meaningful in your life. 

Focus on your successes

You might be distracted from what goes well when looking for challenges or ways a situation can go wrong. Each time you think about a disappointing scenario, think of two scenarios that went well during that day or week and why they made you happy.  

Be honest about areas you can grow 

While focusing on your successes is beneficial, try not to deny where you can improve. Everyone can make mistakes, so don't criticize yourself too harshly. Remember that you're human and that you can make healthier choices tomorrow. 

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 may not be healthy to assume any outcome. Maintain a sense of hope and remind yourself that positive events are as likely to occur as negative ones. Building confidence through confidence-building exercises may also help you develop this skill as you learn to believe in your potential to succeed in your goals. 

Communicate with someone you trust 

Negative personal constructs of the world can produce difficult emotions. If you're a pessimist, you might believe you're alone. It could seem that no one understands your point of view or what you're feeling. In these cases, confiding in someone you trust about your efforts to improve your outlook may be helpful. Their support can remind you that people love you for a reason. If you don't have people in your life right now, consider making efforts to make new friends, date, or see a professional for guidance.  

Rawpixel
You can shift your attitude and perspective

Build your optimism with a professional 

Because of the potential damage a pessimistic mindset can cause, it may be valuable for people who identify as pessimistic to seek help from a mental health professional. However, although help is available, some people choose not to seek therapy. They might believe they won't be able to afford therapy or find time for it in their busy schedules. Others struggle to find mental health professionals close by. In these cases, online platforms like BetterHelp can connect you with a licensed, accredited therapist with experience treating challenges like pessimism. 

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 increased optimism, happiness, and self-esteem and could improve overall psychological well-being. 

Online platforms allow individuals to remotely access valuable resources, such as interactive exercises, audio and video educational files, and counseling services, to help reinforce important concepts and ideas. In addition, online therapy is often more convenient than in-person therapy due to its cost-effectiveness, flexibility, and mitigation of perceived stigma.

Takeaway

Pessimism is a mindset often developed based on life experiences, disappointment, and a desire to protect oneself. However, this coping mechanism is not necessarily healthy, as it has been linked to worsened mental and physical health outcomes. If you struggle with pessimistic thinking or want to learn how to use optimism to improve your health, consider contacting a licensed therapist. You don't have to have a mental illness to go to therapy, and thousands of providers are available online and in person to offer support.

Understand how different outlooks can shape life

The information on this page is not intended to be a substitution for diagnosis, treatment, or informed professional advice. You should not take any action or avoid taking any action without consulting with a qualified mental health professional. For more information, please read our terms of use.
Get the support you need from one of our therapistsGet Started