Pessimist or Optimist

Kinda Depends on the Situation

By Jeff Salter

I can’t say that I’m all that “upbeat” typically… so people wouldn’t likely view me as an optimist. But I think it’s easy for someone who’s a practical realist to be confused as a pessimist… simply because they’re aware of limitations and/or dangers (and take steps to ameliorate them). And that’s what I consider myself: a practical realist. I want to be prepared for the situations I’m about to enter, so I think about what I might need.

Could it be too cold in that theater? I’ll bring a jacket.

Will the prices for candy be triple (or more) what they cost at the grocery? I’ll bring my own candy.

Might my indigestion act up again? I’ll bring a few anti-acid tablets in my pocket.

Is there rain in the forecast for after the movie? I’ll bring an umbrella.

Some people categorize all of those practical considerations as signs of a pessimist. I disagree. The fact that I bring the jacket and carry the umbrella does not mean I expect it to be cold inside and rainy outside… but merely because I don’t wish to be uncomfortably cold and wet in case the conditions DO turn out as they have a 50-50 chance of developing.

I remember many years ago when our children were young and we were heading out of state for a big reunion with my dad, step-mother, both my siblings and their families. It was early autumn, so I told each of our two kids to bring a jacket. Both protested, “It’s not cold.” Well, they were correct that it wasn’t cold at that moment, during the daytime, in the state where we lived. But what would the weather be like in the place we were going, at whatever time of day or evening we might be moving about outside? So, despite them ignoring my admonition, I secretly packed a jacket for each of them anyway. Sure enough, the very first evening at the destination, it turned quite chilly and they were both “freezing.”

“Go to the car and get your jackets,” I said.

“But we didn’t bring our jackets,” they replied.

“I know, but I brought them FOR you.”

They were optimists… but was I a pessimist? I don’t think so. I believe I was a practical realist.

Or take this example: If you already know a certain stretch of road has lots of potholes, and you therefore travel that stretch slowly, carefully, and make adjustments as you proceed… are you a pessimist? Conversely, would an optimist simply barrel down that highway, regardless of the danger to his/her car and its suspension? Do optimists lose their optimist card if they slow down and assess potential hazards? Do pessimists deserve their “Eeyore” label simply because they point out things (like potholes) which should be avoided?


And speaking of Eeyore… yeah, it’d be a bummer being around someone so constantly gloomy. But wouldn’t it be equally uncomfortable and exhausting to be constantly badgered by the unrelenting boisterousness of someone like Tigger?

Let’s examine the world of un-famous authors — and, yeah, there are plenty of us. A severely pessimistic writer would not submit a manuscript to a contest, agent, editor, publisher… simply with the belief that “they wouldn’t want it anyway.” And I’ve know some writers who think that way.

On the other hand, an egotistical optimist might submit early, unpolished drafts to any and all with the attitude that “they have to love it, because I wrote it.”

In between those extremes are the people who hover on the scale somewhere between Plus-10 percent and Minus-10 percent … where the PLUS side reaches to positive 100% and the MINUS side reaches to negative 100%. Zero would be dead center. The practical realist’s “needle” would typically be on the zero mark. Depending upon circumstances, recent experiences, prevailing market conditions, etc., that individual’s needle could flicker anywhere between those two points on the meter.


To get a somewhat objective measure of where I am on that scale, I took a very short “personality” test. I didn’t think much of the test questions, but here’s how I scored:

42 on the optimism line

50 on the pessimism line

And here is the summary the thoughtful test-makers composed on my behalf:

You sometimes believe that the future holds positive opportunities with successful outcomes. Holding on to this will help you to cope with stressful situations and help with your motivation and persistence. You do sometimes view the world as a place of bad experiences and events, at these times you are unlikely to invest much trust or faith in the belief that things will turn out ok.


I could ramble on and on about my take on practical realism versus the extremes of optimism and pessimism, but let me share a few summary quotes by writer Jeremy Dean: 

There are some advantages to optimism like it seems to make people feel better about life. But there are also advantages for pessimism in that thinking the worst helps some pessimists cope better with the world.

But we should be less concerned with which is ‘better’ or which camp is larger and more interested in why people see the world in such different ways in the first place.

 #  #  #

To cope with this unpredictability some of us choose to think optimistically because it helps motivate us to try, try again. For others a pessimistic mindset performs the same function. By thinking about what might go wrong it helps protect us against when things do go wrong.

 #  #  #

Being optimistic allows people to pursue their goals in a positive way: to dream a bigger and better dream, which they can work their way towards. Optimists also seem to respond better to positive feedback, and part of being optimistic may be generating this feedback for themselves, i.e. thinking positive thoughts.

On the other hand being pessimistic may help people reduce their natural anxiety and to perform better. Also, pessimists seem to respond better to negative feedback. They like to hear what the problems were, so they can correct them. Again, part of why pessimists generate these sorts of negative thoughts is that it helps them perform better.

 #  #  #

Here is a link to the entire excellent article by Jeremy Dean:



What about YOU? Is your glass half full or half empty? Or do you think that image sort of misses the point in the discussion of optimism vs. pessimism?

[JLS # 465]


About Jeff Salter

Currently writing romantic comedy, screwball comedy, and romantic suspense. Fourteen completed novels and four completed novellas. Working with three royalty publishers: Clean Reads, Dingbat Publishing, & TouchPoint Press/Romance. "Cowboy Out of Time" -- Apr. 2019 /// "Double Down Trouble" -- June 2018 /// "Not Easy Being Android" -- Feb. 2018 /// "Size Matters" -- Oct. 2016 /// "The Duchess of Earl" -- Jul. 2016 /// "Stuck on Cloud Eight" -- Nov. 2015 /// "Pleased to Meet Me" (novella) -- Oct. 2015 /// "One Simple Favor" (novella) -- May 2015 /// "The Ghostess & MISTER Muir" -- Oct. 2014 /// "Scratching the Seven-Month Itch" -- Sept. 2014 /// "Hid Wounded Reb" -- Aug. 2014 /// "Don't Bet On It" (novella) -- April 2014 /// "Curing the Uncommon Man-Cold -- Dec. 2013 /// "Echo Taps" (novella) -- June 2013 /// "Called To Arms Again" -- (a tribute to the greatest generation) -- May 2013 /// "Rescued By That New Guy in Town" -- Oct. 2012 /// "The Overnighter's Secrets" -- May 2012 /// Co-authored two non-fiction books about librarianship (with a royalty publisher), a chapter in another book, and an article in a specialty encyclopedia. Plus several library-related articles and reviews. Also published some 120 poems, about 150 bylined newspaper articles, and some 100 bylined photos. Worked about 30 years in librarianship. Formerly newspaper editor and photo-journalist. Decorated veteran of U.S. Air Force (including a remote ‘tour’ of duty in the Arctic … at Thule AB in N.W. Greenland). Married; father of two; grandfather of six.
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14 Responses to Pessimist or Optimist

  1. jbrayweber says:

    My test results show a 50/50 split, which sounds about right. I suppose it really depends on my attitude or the attitude of those around me. Most of the time, I feel like the glass is have empty, BUT it is refillable. And that’s the point. Always refilling. Be prepared. Don’t just let life happen to you, be an active participant.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jeff Salter says:

      yes, Jenn… exactly. A practical realist notices when the glass is nearing that mid-way point and is already looking for a source of water to add to the glass.
      And, yes — one of the few things I took from my brief years in scouting was to “be prepared.” We cannot always assume that the people who’ve made commitments and have the responsibility for things will actually come through. Case in point: I was with an entire company of Army Nat’l Guard troops, in the woods, late at night, during a training exercise. The field kitchen was “supposed” to be set up hours ago… but it wasn’t. All the guys were hungry and nobody else (that I encountered) had brought anything to eat. They all assumed it would be taken care of, as pledged. I — however — had brought a box of pop tarts and a thermos of coffee. Which I shared with my tent-mate and a couple of other guys I was friends with. Practical realist.

      Liked by 1 person

      • jbrayweber says:

        I’ve come to begrudgingly accept people will disappoint you. Time and again. Being prepared at least takes the sting out of it. And, as in your situation with the late-night training exercise, you can bring less anxiety and pessimism to those around you.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Having read your blog today and after knowing you for the length of time I have, Jeff, I’d say you lean more toward optimism than pessimism. You and I are of the same mind, optimistic about what we have to do to keep safe, healthy, and everything in between. I’d say I’m the kind of person that neither thinks the glass is half full or half empty, but just where it needs to be at the present time. I plan for the worst and hope for the best. I take things as they are, realistically, and handle every situation as it comes. Yes, I have moments and maybe even days where I’m down, but I also have moments and days where I’m up. To be honest, I prefer the in between days when I’m relaxed. Neither an Eeyore or Tigger.

    Neither of us are looking for the worst in people or situations. We see things as they are and adjust our lives accordingly. That’s the best way to do things, isn’t it? To have a balance?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jeff Salter says:

      I agree completely, Sharon. and you express it beautifully.
      After all, someone who’s an unrestrained optimist may not always take care of themselves — vis-a-vis safety and security — on the premise that “everybody” shares their good-natured innocent zeal.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. A man after my own heart! I used to tell people that I was a REALIST when I would try to be prepared. I still try. This week’s topic has made me take a hard look at myself. Hmmm.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jeff Salter says:

      It has occasionally bothered me to be in association with people who — under the guise of being “optimistic” — simply expect (and wait for) others to take care of them. Instead of doing their own groundwork, advance thinking, and other types of preparation.


  4. Patricia Kiyono says:

    As I expected, I’m 100 percent optimist, 50 percent pessimist. To me, your examples don’t represent pessimism, just practicality. The fact that I keep an umbrella in my car doesn’t mean I expect it to rain every time I go out, it just means that WHEN it rains I don’t have to think about grabbing it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jeff Salter says:

      That’s an excellent example. But, with me, it sometimes still turns out to be an accusation of sorts. As in when someone is heading out and I say, “don’t forget your umbrella.”
      Surprisingly, to me, that can often illicit some sort of rejoinder that I must surely be a pessimist. Huh? Advising / reminding someone to take an ordinary precaution is pessimistic? Good grief.


  5. I bet your kids were.glad for their jackets.
    I tell my teens every time they go.out with friends “Watch for deer!” That doesn’t mean that I believe they will get hit by a deer but I know it can happen so I would rather remind them to keep an eye out for them (especially at this ti me.of year) than to have them not pay attention and hit a deer. They roll their eyes, certainly believing thar I worry too much. However, last night driving through town we had a deer jump out in fromt of us, I told them that’s why they always need to be watchful. It’s good to be a practical realist that doesn’t mean you can’t lean toward the optimistic side.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jeff Salter says:

      yes, that’s also an excellent example of something that should just be a “given” — a natural precaution. Yet some people use such a caution as an alleged sign of pessimism.
      When you go into battle, it’s not pessimistic to assess the enemy’s strength, look for his fortifications, and try to avoid walking into traps. Sheesh.


  6. stevevanhorn says:

    I scored 50 on the optimism and 33 on the pessimism. I’ll accept that split. I am an optimist but fully believe in proceeding with caution. That being said, I’ve had my share of days where I was told my my glass was neither half full or half empty – that it was shattered on the floor. I accept that, too. Though I tend to be optimistic, I do feel things deeply, especially when they hurt.
    Just a thought here, I suppose there are no right answers to a test or even our individual attitudes for that matter. In my marriage, for instance, there have been circumstances where we were on a see-saw. When one of us was falling apart, the other was offering comfort, and within ten minutes it was exactly the other way around. We are always there for each other, and most of the time we are just enjoying the ride, but I am certainly thankful that we are both neither full Eeyore or Tigger, as that could set the see-saw plank down hard, and send the other into orbit.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jeff Salter says:

      definitely agree that marriage, as well as other human relationships, require continual adjustment and compromise.
      And, yes, I’ve occasionally felt like my “glass” had simply fallen to the floor and shattered.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Elaine Cantrell says:

    I’ve got to take a test like that for myself, and there’s nothing wrong with practical realism.

    Liked by 1 person

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