A pessimist is a person who nurtures a consistently negative attitude, expecting the worst of people and of situations. This outlook persists regardless of facts or circumstances that might indicate a more balanced or positive reality. He or she relates to the “half empty glass,” ignoring the fact that the glass is also half full. This type of person typically believes that the world is quite bad and is growing bleaker all the time.
Pessimism is a temperamental trait, whereas depression is a clinical disease. In some instances, both pessimism and depression might be present, and it might be possible that a consistently negative attitude could lead to depression. In terms of treatment, this type of person suffers from a habit of thinking negatively that can be willfully changed through treatments like psychotherapy. Persistent depression, on the other hand, is linked to decreased levels of serotonin and typically requires medication.
For some people, a pessimistic attitude serves as a source of sardonic humor and might even be a coping mechanism. People that fall into this category might feel they are actually warding off negativity by being prepared for the worst. "If you continually expect the worse, you are apt to be pleasantly surprised a lot. If you always expect the best, you may be disappointed frequently." This can be a reasonable rationale for some people.
Some researchers believe, however, that this negative attitude might negatively affect his or her health. Studies conducted in the Netherlands between 1995 and 2001 suggest a possible link between pessimism and heart disease. The studies, published in The Archives of General Psychiatry, 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. While factors like diet and smoking were accounted for, it should be noted that participants were not screened for depression.
Whether or not a link does exist with heart disease, it has become widely accepted that a positive attitude is certainly helpful in life. If being a pessimist doesn't shorten life, being an optimist will likely make it more enjoyable.
Virtually anyone who nurtures a habitually negative temperament can transform from a pessimist to a more positive person with time and effort. Psychotherapy and cognitive behavior therapy can help a person to change his or her thinking habits. If the cost of therapy is prohibitive, a more affordable method might be for the person to seek out self-help books that teach how to recognize negative thinking patterns and replace them with positive ones. Local classes and seminars might also be of assistance. With practice and diligence, positive thinking can often become a habit.