Dealing with Uncertainty: Optimism or Pessimism


Let’s face it—life can be pretty unpredictable. As human beings, we have different ways of dealing with uncertainties and coping when our plans do not go as we expected. No one really knows what tomorrow entails, so the next best thing is to prepare yourself as best you can and trust that you can deal with whatever may come your way. There’s been a longstanding debate about optimists versus pessimists. People have asked who is better and who is out of touch. For the realist, these opposite sides can seem impractical and often extreme. Thanks to many hands-on studies, psychologists are revealing that there is much to be learned from both ends of the spectrum.

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How Did We Get Here?

It seems that some people are naturally dispositioned to be optimistic, while others find it easier to view things using a more pessimistic lens. An optimist is someone who is more likely to be excited about the future and what the day may bring. On the other hand, a pessimist might be more likely to be worrying about what could go wrong. Faced with the same circumstances, these two individuals can have a radically different view and feel towards their lives. This view can affect how they see and respond to criticism, failure, and unexpected events. It can also impact their own view of themselves and their level of confidence.

It’s important to consider how people become the way they are. A number of different cognitive psychology theories hold the answer to this all-important question. Contrary to the belief that you are what you are and that’s it, contemporary psychologists argue that being an optimist or pessimist is a learned behavior. That means that people drift to one end of the scale or the other through social learning over a period of time. As children grow and their personalities develop, the kind of environment and influences that they are exposed to can influence how they see the world and how they interpret different events.

Exploring Different Motivations

A more middle ground approach to looking at these different personalities is now emerging. Rather than comparing who is better, many psychologists are looking at what positives we can learn from the two sides. By understanding their views and motivations, we can glean some important takeaways.

As previously touched on, life is full of uncertainties. Over time, we develop habits and ways to cope with these according to our personalities, beliefs, and experiences. Optimists are motivated by a desire to progress and go forward. This makes them ready to give it another shot when things don’t go as expected. They are more likely to brush off failure and try again.
For pessimists, however, thinking about what could go wrong helps them to plan better. They are motivated by their need for safety and security. No matter which side you are on, you can pick up one or two things from the other so that you have a healthy and more balanced view.

Learning to See the Cup Half Full

Now that we’ve seen the growing belief that optimism is learned over the years, there’s an interesting new approach. Research studies conducted by Dr. Martin E. Seligman suggest that learned optimism is something anyone can adopt. He details how this can be done. One must first find out just how optimistic they are. To do this, a person must make an honest assessment of how they respond to uncertainties and adversity. From there, they can start changing their habits and immediate responses, one decision at a time. This is an interesting study and development believed to have tremendous benefits for a person’s mental and physical health.

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