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Pessimism defined
Not to be confused with being "realistic"
Why do people use pessimism"
What is the usefulness of practicing pessimism
The pessimistic person
Trying to create a "permanence" of what is familiar
The commitment to eliminating the toxin of pessimism

"Pessimism is only a story one makes up - and it'll drive your spirit down underground."

                                                                   The BuddhaKahuna


The tendency to expect misfortune or the worst outcome in any circumstances; practice of looking at the dark side of things.  The bias toward assuming that things will be "bad".    

Pessimism as an underlying, pervasive attitude has one believing that there is more evil outweighing good in the world and/or the world is the worst possible place (or pretty bad anyway).   It is a highly dysfunctional attitude and set of beliefs, that should be overcome at all costs, as it is, like Perfectionism, the road to hell in life.

Pessimism is "reacting to setbacks from a presumption of personal (learned) helplessness, a presumption of powerlessness.  This is one of the main points this site seeks to deal with.  It is essential that one overcomes the erroneous childhood belief of "I am powerless", as it is the primary underlying factor, actually a viewpoint, of what creates unhappiness.  The opposite is achievable and, I think, essential:  Fearlessness - knowing one will deal with any outcome and make the best of it while also creating happiness no matter what!


It is confused with the "being realistic", but it is actually based on unrealities and untruths.  In his excellent treatment of this subject Martin Seligman, in his book Learned Optimism, states that pessimism can be useful, but I disagree because I see pessimism as not being realism.  When he says it is useful, he is assuming that reality is a part of pessimism - but I think the latter is untrue.  However, shining a light on what is happening, looking at what is true or not, seeing what is real and what is not real is absolutely useful and essential to creating a great life.  This is what is practiced in the vital skill of Problem Solving, particularly the forms included for problem solving.  

In practical problem solving, we are hoping to create best but anticipating what might result if the worst occurs.  Though this looks like the part of pessimism that is anticipating the worst, it is not based on expecting the worst but on dealing with what is necessary in order to prevent the worst or to deal with it well. 


"Why do people use pessimism?" is actually the first question to address as part of this discussion.  

All of our brains have a natural pessimistic bias as the function of our primitive brain is to predict (anticipate) what could occur and to use its records to match some old strategies that might work.  But a person who allows the primitive brain to rule, instead of just being useful, will not lead a very productive or expansive life. 

So, the answer to the question is that people might use pessimism, in the aspect of using the lens of "looking for the worse", as a strategy, like worry, to look for all that could happen in an effort to feel safe.  It can, as with worry, have an irrational belief that the excess practice of this creates more control of the future outcomeswhich is not at all true and is one of the great illusions.  Excess worry creates the very thing we fear, which is the feeling of fear, not the actual event.  

It is important that you understand the laws and principles around control, so that you'll save a huge amount of effort plus you'll get better results and operate with more true power.  See Control


But the problem is that repeated pessimism does not have a real benefit and that it creates dysfunctional thinking that causes emotional harm or loses sight of potential benefits. 

Martin Seligman ("Learned Optimism"; "Authentic Happiness" books) puts forth the idea that optimism may not in critical cases be a good strategy and that pessimism should be employed as a behavior in such situations.  The idea is to use the behavior to the point where it is useful and to stop it when its "marginal return" is highly diminished.  But, as pointed out above, I think that he is referring to "undue optimism", which is the "rose-colored-lenses" bias, which is just the opposite end of the spectrum of unrealism.  (Relevant possible reading for some:  Payoffs, Diminishing and Increasing Returns, When To Quit in the ProblemSolving/DecisionMaking section.) 

So, use it in planning in all cases where there is a significant downside - evaluating what the effect is in the worst case.  And it is a useful practice to use to figure out what needs to be shored up for things to work out better in a situation.  

It is also useful to avoid crashes due to unmet unrealistic expectations, which is really to say that we should not be overly optimistic nor unrealistic in our expectations.   Indeed, it is the unrealistic view that our "expectations" must be met that creates (unnecessary) Suffering.     


A distinction that might be useful here is to distinguish the practice of "useful pessimism" as being totally not related to cynicism, which is an attitude of jaded negativity and a general distrust of people and/or the future working out.  Yes, I think, cynicism is a natural part of pessimism.

Resignation, though fitting nicely within pessimism, is actually a "giving up" since "there is no hope".  It might appear to be useful when there is no hope, as it would seem to be a way of stopping all efforts where they would not be useful.  But in that case what is involved should just be acceptance of the fact.  Resignation involves an additional slanted viewpoint of "hopelessness" that is not necessarily true.  

Pessimism is one of the components of depression, anxiety, and ongoing unhappiness - I recommend that you not choose it.  In other words, do all you can to change the underlying beliefs, as pessimism as a pervasive attitude is highly, highly dysfunctional, highly, highly harmful and damaging.     


Although the pessimist won't believe this, it is absolutely true that one always has a possibility of a better future.  Although realism is a part of intelligent optimism, optimism is not based on "hope" but on dealing with reality in a way that works.  Hope is nice, but not necessary and not a primary component of optimism, as optimism still works even if one's hoped for outcome does not happen.  

The ideal choice is to be an Intelligent Optimist.  Read that section and make a choice of whether or not to be one!


A pessimistic person has the following beliefs: (check off which is true for your beliefs)

A bad condition is permanent and ongoing (or lasts a long time).
It's my fault and I'm flawed or bad (blame, plus also permanence about oneself).
This will undermine my potential for being happy; it will be pervasive. 
I am at the effect of it and I cannot change it (I am "at the effect" of it) 

Actually, there is no such thing as a "pessimistic person" since it is not a permanent condition of being.  Instead, pessimism is a practice of using false beliefs that are harmful to one's happiness.  Therefore, the solution to the problem is to change the underlying beliefs from what is not true over to what is true.  Read Changing Beliefs when you're ready to address these. 


A person can perpetuate the idea of permanence by repeating anything connected with a negative view of oneself.  People think that permanence is actually possible (which it isn't) and they think, on top of that, that they must have permanence to be ok - so they insert things into their lives in order to have the so-called safety of permanence (just an illusion).  

Something that can "look like" permanence is the practice of repeating something, continuously sticking it into "the space" over and over, so that "the space" is not (dangerously) empty.  An "empty space" does not have predictability, so the primitive mind can create discomfort about it.  The "catch" here is that we have the choice in the next instant of not creating that same thing and then it will seem to disappear. 

Most of the time, we simply are "perpetuating" a problem by repeating a set of beliefs that are negative and dysfunctional....

If one thinks "I'll always have these psychological problems" and then talks about his/her inability to handle them, that is a form of reinforcement of the idea that he/she will always be in that condition.  If one tells the story of why one is this way, one further justifies the whole chain of thoughts - and makes it all hang together.  And it appears to that person that it is a permanent condition, rather than a very temporary condition chosen and created over and over.  

"I'm this way because my mother always criticized me" is a classic.  If that story is repeated even once in a while, it just confirms why one is "this way" and implies it is fixed, that one is a victim of it and there is little hope of changing it.  (Victims don't change things.) 


___ I see the costs of being pessimistic: losing the vitality and happiness of my life!

___ Therefore, I see that it is worth everything to eradicate this toxin.

       ___ I will do whatever is necessary to do this, as it is my life that is at stake.
       ___ I will follow the belief changing program, learning and implementing all  
              that is necessary.

I commit to this on this historic, monumental day on the ___ of ______________, ____.

Signed: _________________________________

Notes for possible inclusion:

So, is pessimism a useful approach in some ways?  Anticipation of what could go wrong and what needs to be shored up is a very useful planning practice.  What is the worst case and does it cost too much if that happens?  fewer crashes from unmet unrealistic expectations or running into obstacles.  don't expect too much. shore up the weak points

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