10 surprising advantages of being a pessimist

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There’s a lot to be said in the realism, optimism, and pessimism debate.

Optimism in healthy doses has its place. It helps people look forward and find hope.

And realism is a mindful way to stay grounded in the present and deal with issues as they arise.

But pessimism? Pessimism is often treated as this entirely undesirable trait that you should avoid at all costs.

In some ways, that’s true, particularly if you struggle with low mood or depression.

However, there are some advantages of being a pessimist if that happens to be your outlook:

1. Pessimists are more risk-aware.

Pessimism is regularly expecting things to go wrong.

Pessimists look for potential problems ahead of them, which gives them an edge if they use that information productively.

They may be more likely to generate backup plans, which offers them a competitive edge where others struggle.

However, a pessimist needs to be wary of self-sabotage when looking for those problems, as this negative outlook may end up being a self-fulfilling prophecy.

For example, if a pessimist is sure a new relationship isn’t going to go well, there’s a good chance the other person is going to feel that negativity and end the relationship.

2. Pessimists use critical thinking.

There are different ways to look at situations.

Blind optimists and sometimes realists may not fully consider the negative ramifications of a challenge because they can’t. They may not be used to scrutinizing things as thoroughly as a pessimist would.

A pessimist may be able to spot weaknesses in a plan that others can’t.

That needs to be balanced, however. There is such a thing as over-analysis.

You can always find problems and holes in a plan if you look hard enough. The key is to be prepared to deal with them or have confidence that you can handle them when they do arise.

3. Pessimists have the motivation to improve.

Because they view things negatively, pessimists may have the impetus to take action to improve themselves or their situation.

In doing so, they may be able to prepare for or deflect problems when they arise, as long as they actually do the work.

The flip side of that is a pessimist can easily undermine their happiness by constantly fixating on their problems.

If it’s not balanced, it can fuel anxiety and depression because the pessimist doesn’t let themselves feel safe and happy with their present.

4. Pessimists may appreciate success more.

A pessimist may value success more because they weren’t expecting a positive outcome.

So when something good does pop up, they can enjoy it more because it’s a pleasant surprise.

They may value it more highly and experience more satisfaction than those who always expect the best and therefore take success for granted.

On the other hand, pessimists may miss the little successes of everyday life because of how they view the world. Most successes aren’t going to be these grand, magnificent affairs.

Sometimes success is just getting out of bed in the morning, taking a shower, or doing a chore that needs to be done.

5. Pessimists may value the present more.

Some pessimists can enjoy the present more because they know the good times won’t last.

They accept the pendulum will eventually swing back the other way, so they adopt an “Enjoy it while it lasts” attitude.  

Assuming they can keep a balanced perspective, that is.

A pessimist could just as easily get so wrapped up in waiting for that pendulum to swing that they undermine their enjoyment of the present.

6. Pessimists can be less emotionally reactive.

A pessimist may have an easier time dealing with negative emotions and situations because they were expecting them.

It’s not a surprise for them when things go wrong. It dulls their disappointment and emotional response to these negative situations.

But if emotions are perpetually dialed down, it can become problematic.

Positive emotions are likely to be turned off too, and this lack of feeling fuels depression, hopelessness, and isolation.

7. Pessimists may have stronger attention to detail.

A pessimist’s focus on what could go wrong can result in meticulous attention to detail.

That can be beneficial in fields like law, engineering, accounting, and risk analysis. It can help a pessimist see flaws in plans before they’re executed, giving them a chance to develop contingencies if things don’t go right.

However, you’ve probably heard the saying, “They can’t see the forest for the trees”.

It means you can get so absorbed in the details of a thing, that you can’t see the bigger picture.

There is such a thing as being too detail-focused. A pessimist who’s constantly looking for problems may lose sight of the whole picture, missing all the things that could go right and becoming unable to move forward.

8. Pessimists are often resourceful.

Resources are finite. There’s only so much time, energy, and money to pour into a thing.

Since pessimists regularly look for what can go wrong, they may be better able to spot where they should, and shouldn’t, devote resources. As a result, they can make those resources stretch further.

However, they need to be careful they don’t fall into the trap of not deploying enough resources to be successful.

It goes back to the idea of self-sabotage. If a pessimist believes something’s not going to work, why would they bother wasting their resources? Meanwhile, it absolutely would’ve worked, if they’d just put sufficient time and effort into the goal.

9. Pessimists are selective with their time.

A pessimist may look at a commitment, see all the holes and problems with it, and decide not to attend.

They don’t end up wasting time on things they won’t enjoy or won’t get any benefit from.

However, this can become isolating and counterproductive if taken too far, as their negative outlook may mean they find problems that don’t exist and undermine positive opportunities because of a few small negatives.

Everything has holes and flaws in it, but a pessimist may not consider that 90% of success is just showing up.

10. Pessimists may not be as influenced by peer pressure.

A pessimist may avoid peer pressure altogether because they aren’t as inclined to move with a crowd.

They may look for the issues in social groups and balance those issues against what they see as the benefits, coming up with little.

It’s good to be your own person and stay true to yourself. But social influence isn’t all bad.

A pessimist may benefit from a bit of positive influence to help keep them balanced. Just as an optimist could do with a healthy dose of realism, and even pessimism, from time to time. There’s a fine line between optimism and toxic positivity, after all.

Like all things, one needs balance to ensure a healthy perspective and emotional landscape.

If you’re a pessimist, embrace the advantages it can bring, but be aware of the traps it can set, to avoid falling into them.

About The Author

Jack Nollan is a person who has lived with Bipolar Disorder and Bipolar-depression for almost 30 years now. Jack is a mental health writer of 10 years who pairs lived experience with evidence-based information to provide perspective from the side of the mental health consumer. With hands-on experience as the facilitator of a mental health support group, Jack has a firm grasp of the wide range of struggles people face when their mind is not in the healthiest of places. Jack is an activist who is passionate about helping disadvantaged people find a better path.