There is a guy in this 30’s I work with who is quite a cynic but calls himself a “realist”. A few days ago in conversation I said to him “realist is just another name for a pessimist”. He is the sort that often finds things to be down about or else he anticipates something of the sort will come his way. Reflecting later on what I had said, the feeling was a bit of research is in order. I began by looking through definitions for pessimist, realist and optimist.
Pessimist: tendency to stress the negative or unfavorable or to take the gloomiest possible view. The doctrine or belief that this is the worst of all possible worlds and that all things ultimately tend toward evil. A pessimist is someone who is rarely disappointed, but sadly, very rarely pleasantly surprised.
Realist: do not see the glass as half empty or half full, but see what’s exactly in the glass. Rarely try to make a bad situation seem better than it is, but also never sabotage any good things going on. Realists are brutally honest in assessments of situations – and this seems to help them cope.
Optimist: expects a favorable outcome. The tendency to expect the best, look for good in all things and have hopefulness of the ultimate triumph of good over evil while believing this is the best of all possible worlds. The state of being cheerful or hopeful about the future and about the world around you.
William Arthur Ward pointed out his view of the differences between the three when he said The pessimist complains about the wind; The optimist expects it to change; The realist adjusts the sails. Another related thought is a pessimist is a misunderstood realist, who would like to visit the planet optimists live on, but wouldn’t like to live there.
Optimist is fairly easy to get a grasp on. In trying to get further separation between realist and pessimist I came across the statement “hyper-realism and pessimism are the same thing” and that rings true to me. I ended up with a clear view of optimism but thinking that the boundary between realism and pessimism is a very thin one and has mostly to do with how strongly a person’s attitude leans positive or negative.
Researchers believe that a pessimistic attitude might negatively affect health. Studies conducted in the Netherlands around fifteen years ago point to a probable link between pessimism and heart disease. The studies followed over 900 Dutch citizens from ages 65 to 85 over the six-year period. Each participant was ranked on a scale of optimism and pessimism. The study found that 30.4% of the optimistic participants died during the study period, compared to 56.5% of the pessimistic participants.
And there’s more. In a study of 99 Harvard University students, those who were optimists at age 25 were significantly healthier at ages 45 and 60 than those who were pessimists. Other studies have linked pessimistic thinking with higher rates of infectious disease, poor health, and earlier mortality.
Optimists seem to have it best. They don’t give up as easily as pessimists. They also tend to experience less stress than pessimists or realists. Because they believe in themselves and their abilities, they expect good things to happen. Optimists see negative events as setbacks to be overcome, and view positive events as evidence of further good things to come.
Optimistic people, get sick less often, they are more successful in their careers, they make more money, they’re happier and they tend to live longer. When it comes down to it, positive, optimistic people are happier and healthier, and enjoy more success than those who think negatively. The key difference between is how they think about and interpret the events in their life.
Positive and negative thoughts can become self-fulfilling prophecies: What I expect can often come true. If I start off thinking I will mess up a task, the chances are that I will. I may not try hard enough to succeed, I won’t attract support from other people, and I may not perceive any results as good enough.
Generally speaking the American public divides itself with an approximate split of 50% optimistic, 40% realistic and 10% pessimistic. It’s important to note that psychology has proven that about 50% of our happiness levels are set at birth by our genes. That leaves the other 50% within our control. Anybody can learn to be more optimistic and thus happier if they want to.
If you will call your troubles experiences, and remember that every experience develops some latent force within you, you will grow vigorous and happy, however adverse your circumstances may seem to be is a quote from John Heywood I agree with completely. Through application of such thinking to my approach to life there has been a dramatically positive shift for me within the last ten years.
I realize now my friend at work is probably a true realist who is fairly neutral about things most of the time. Once upon a time I identified myself as a “realist” also but was actually a pessimist who could not admit it to myself or anyone else. Today I choose to be optimistic and am grateful for the goodness that approach brings. It was in deciding not to dwell on negative things ahead of time, and not “borrow trouble” as my grandmother used to call it, that brought a true change. Mark Twain summed it up in a sentence: I’ve known a great many troubles, and most of them never happened. I am a recovering realist, who today leans toward being an optimist. I am thankful for how much better such a view makes life!
A man is but the product of his thoughts.
What he thinks, he becomes.