Pessimism Definition - 4 Ways A Bad Attitude Can Hurt You

Updated August 25, 2020

Medically Reviewed By: Lauren Guilbeault


If you knew that there was something that would cause you to have bad relationships, poor health, low self-esteem, and a job that you hate, would you do it? It seems like an obvious answer when you look at it that way. Who would actually choose all of those negative things in their life? Well, these are the results that you might be experiencing in your life if you have a pessimistic attitude. Many people think that being a pessimist is really not that big of a deal. And, some even think that it's an advantage because it protects them from potentially being in a hurtful situation. They think it helps to give them thick skin. However, the pessimism definition is very clear and with a good understanding of it, you will see why this is not a good thing in your life.

Pessimism Definition

According to that Merriam Webster dictionary, the pessimism definition is, "an inclination to emphasize adverse aspects, conditions, and possibilities or to expect the worst possible outcome." And, according to the definition is "the tendency to speak, anticipate, or emphasize only bad or undesirable outcomes, results, conditions, problems, etc."

A pessimistic person is someone who always sees the bad in the situation. They have a hard time believing that things will work out. They are a glass half empty and not glass-half-full type of person. Many pessimistic people believe that they are protecting themselves by always expecting the worst. They believe that if they expect the worst from the start, they will not be let down if it happens. And, this is the way that they live their life.

If you can identify with the thoughts of a pessimistic person you are probably thinking it's better to be pleasantly surprised, then constantly let down. However, being pessimistic can be very hurtful to different areas of your life.

  1. A Bad Attitude Hurts Your Relationships


It's hard to be in a relationship with a pessimistic person. The pessimism definition explains exactly why that is. People that are chronically pessimistic have a hard time trusting other people. Therefore, when you are pessimistic, you end up making unfair accusations. You assume the worst, and so you look for the worst to happen. When you do this, you actually create problems that don't exist. You fabricate things in your mind, so it will support your pessimistic attitude. You end up creating new problems.

It's also hard for pessimistic people to plan the future with another person. Because you are constantly expecting something bad to happen to ruin the relationship, it's difficult to see past that and have hope for the future. However, your significant other can only put up with this for a certain amount of time because they want to be able to make plans and know where the relationship is headed.

Relationships are difficult. Every relationship is different and comes with its own challenges. However, when you add a pessimistic person into a relationship, it goes to a whole new level of difficulty. Pessimistic people will not show their true feelings easily. This means they will hold back from being open with how they feel. In an effort to protect themselves they're actually withholding the words that their significant other would like to hear. This also causes them to not work on their relationship when there is a problem. Because they assumed that there was going to be a problem before it happened, they don't feel that there's any point in working on it.

  1. A Bad Attitude Hurts Your Health

Your thoughts are closely tied with your physical health. People try to separate health into mental health and physical health. Some will even add to emotional health. But, these all correlate together. There is no way to truly separate different parts of health. Your mental health affects your physical health, and your physical health affects your mental health.

When you have a bad attitude and are pessimistic, you are hurting your physical and mental health. Pessimistic people have a poor mindset. When you have a good mindset, you believe that you have control over your life and the things that happened to you. When you are pessimistic, you don't believe that you have that control.


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. If you are pessimistic, you may believe that your poor health is a reason why you have a bad attitude and constantly expect the worst, but the truth is your pessimistic attitude may be the reason why those things are happening.

Pessimism Is Found To Relate To Heart Disease Directly

One Finnish study came up with interesting results about pessimism and heart disease. There was a study conducted on 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 the 11 years from coronary heart disease. The researchers took into effect things like diabetes, smoking, and other risk factors and determined that the most pessimistic people were twice as likely to die of heart disease.

Pessimism affects your mental health because it constantly feeds you negative thoughts. A negative mindset can lead to anger and depression. If you are struggling with anxiety, worry, anger or rage, or depression you should speak to a professional therapist. BetterHelp has therapists that can help you through online sessions to transform your pessimistic attitude. They can help you identify areas that are triggering your pessimism and help you to overcome them.

  1. A Bad Attitude Hurts Your Career


Being pessimistic is a big drawback in the workplace. There have been studies conducted to test the difference between a pessimist and an optimist in the workforce. The numbers are overwhelmingly in favor of having an optimistic attitude in your career. Pessimistic people are more likely to give up when they encounter a difficult situation at work, they're less likely to learn valuable lessons from their failure at work, and they are more likely to stab others in the back in the workplace.

When you understand the pessimism definition, it's easy to see why it's a drawback at work. Employers are looking for people that have a growth mindset. They want people that are going to persevere through difficult times and challenges to find a solution. They want team players to be working for them. And, employers prefer employees that do not create drama in the workplace. The statistics show that only 24% of pessimists received a good performance review compared to 75% of optimists. So, it's not hard to see why only 13% of pessimists were satisfied in their career when the majority of optimists are.

  1. A Bad Attitude Hurts Your 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 they're thinking after going through hurtful situations in their life. After being constantly disappointed, let down, or hurt by other people they decided that it would be easier to expect the worst from the start. It's an effort to protect themselves from being hurt in the future. However, this only backfires in truly hurting them even more.

True confidence comes from believing that you have control over situations in your life and that you can be part of making good things happen. But, if you have pessimistic tendencies, then you don't believe that you have the same control in your life. Many people who are pessimistic tend to have low self-esteem. and, their pessimistic attitude causes them to think that they are unable to make a change. This leads them to be more pessimistic, which leads to having even lower confidence. So, in an effort to try to protect themselves they're actually hurting themselves further.

How To Change From Being A Pessimist To An Optimist

The good news is it's not too late to change, even if you have been pessimistic for your entire life. It isn't always easy to do, but if you work through the process with a licensed therapist, it's much easier as they will guide you step-by-step. Cognitive behavioral therapy would be a typical approach for therapists to use in session with someone who is pessimistic. Learning to alter distorted ways of thinking and adapt more healthy, rational thoughts can have a positive impact on one's mood.


Becoming a more optimistic person will transform your life in many ways. As you begin to look for the good in situations instead of the bad, you will begin to see the good. As people, we tend to find whatever it is that we are looking for. That means if you look for the bad you will find the bad. But, if you look for the good, you will begin to find the good. You will also begin to see that you have more control over the outcome of your life than you previously believed.

As you continue to grow and develop your attitude your relationship could improve, your career might improve, and your health could improve. But, the biggest change that will happen is the belief in yourself to be able to make a difference in your life, which is by far the greatest thing.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)


What is a pessimistic person like?

A pessimistic person is someone who tends to have a lot of negative things to say. They have trouble seeing any good in other people, themselves, the world, or the future. If you test your vocabulary, you'll probably find that the pessimistic definition says it all.

What is an example of pessimistic?

An example of pessimism is thinking that nothing good ever happens to you. This is an unrealistic thought for most people because nearly everyone has some successes and good times.

Many people defend their pessimism and talk about how it has helped them in the past. They might say something like, "Well, I didn't expect to have a good time, so when I did, it was a pleasant surprise." That may have been true in some specific situations. But more often, what actually happens is that if you go into a situation with a negative mindset, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. You expect to have a bad time, so you don't engage in the activity enough to enjoy it.

In truth, positive examples do not represent the most common experiences of pessimistic people. There are many examples of pessimism in which the pessimistic attitude brought emotional pain or kept them from living a fulfilling life.

What's the opposite of pessimism?

The opposite of pessimism is optimism. Many people think that optimism is having a picture of human life that's colored rosy and sunshiny. But you don't have to be out of touch with reality to be optimistic. You can recognize when bad things happen and when you are unsatisfied with life.

The difference is that when you're optimistic, you see that this is only one bad thing, isn't necessarily a pattern, and doesn't have to continue for the rest of your life. This positive mindset also affects your decision-making so that after you process your painful emotions, you respond to bad times by thinking of ways to overcome them and move past them rather than giving up.

Can pessimists be happy?

People who are slightly pessimistic or only pessimistic about some things can still enjoy life and be happy. When you are incredibly pessimistic most of the time, that's very hard to do. If you can't seem to shake your negative thoughts and feelings enough to have happy times, getting help from a counselor may turn that around for you.

Is being a pessimist a disorder?

Being a pessimist is not a mental disorder. Though some people think it is, that idea does not represent the opinion of most professionals.

However, pessimism can be a sign or a symptom of some disorders. Consider some of the symptoms of depression, for example. Feelings of worthlessness, hopelessness, and helplessness are signs of both pessimism and depression. And, in fact, pessimism is sometimes listed as a symptom of depression.

Another connection between pessimism and mental disorders is that the negative thought patterns that are so prevalent among pessimists can lead to mental disorders. Those who always think the worst will happen may be setting themselves up for anxiety, depression, and anger issues.

That's why one of the main areas of focus for counseling when you have these disorders is to reexamine and adjust negative thoughts through a therapy technique called Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. By becoming more optimistic, you can become more emotionally resilient, too, so that you bounce back more quickly from bad times and can sometimes avoid mental disorders as a result.

Are pessimists more successful?

People who are somewhat pessimistic can be successful. Yet, their ability to see potential problems must be paired with enough hopefulness if they are to make positive changes. Those who haven't learned to break free of their negative thoughts at all usually can't do the things they need to do to make that pessimism useful.

Optimistic people, on the other hand, tend to approach problems with more energy, excitement, and joy. Unless they are optimistic to the point of losing touch with reality, they are very likely to be successful.

Who is a pessimistic person?

A pessimistic person is someone who always looks at the negative side of life. You may know many pessimistic people. And, you may know people who are occasionally pessimistic but optimistic at other times. You may even be acquainted with someone who hides their pessimism behind a brave face. The thing to remember is that their pessimism doesn't have to make your life miserable. You can still make the choices that are right for you based on your own hopeful attitude.

How do I stop being so pessimistic?

Here are some tips for overcoming pessimism.

First, challenge your negative thoughts. For example, if you're generally pessimistic, you might be thinking, "I never get what I want?" Ask yourself if that's really true. List the times when you have wanted something and then received it. You might be surprised to realize that things have been better for you than you thought. A therapist can help you assess the validity of your negative thoughts to help you learn positive thinking skills and so you can develop more hope for the future.

Another thing you can do is see both sides of a situation. If you're pessimistic, a list of pros and cons might turn out pretty lopsided. So, make a list of pros and cons that includes just as many pros as it does cons.

Finally, it pays to look at the past with a discerning eye. Think of all the times you thought things were going to turn out terrible. Probably some negative events did happen in your life. Yet, if you usually take a pessimistic view of human events, there were probably many other times that you expected the worst, but it didn't happen. Seeing that this is true might help you change your view of human experience in general.

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