One might think that optimists would be obviously happier. However being a pessimist means that your expectations will usually be worse than the reality. Presumably when reality exceeds your expectations, you will be happier. On the other hand if you always expect something good to occur you will be disappointed when reality does not live up to your expectations.

So in summary: Does pessimism lead to greater happiness because low expectations lead to less disappointment?

  • $\begingroup$ Personally, I believe that the "better" option is to be an optimist. This may be because when you are an optimist, you attract people, exposing you to more friendship and relationship opportunities. $\endgroup$
    – Zhirou
    Commented Mar 16, 2015 at 13:02
  • $\begingroup$ If in this case being "a pessimist" means simply thinking that something will go wrong or worse as it should be, then yes, it's better to be a pessimist. But I believe there's something more than that when someone is defined as a pessimist: a pessimist is also someone that doesn't enjoy the beautiful things that happens in their life even if they happen, because even if something ends up being better than expected, a pessimist will think "well, it could have gone even better, but surely it didn't." So in my opinion, we should all be optimistic about life, but don't ask too much from it, and ac $\endgroup$
    – Chiara
    Commented Mar 16, 2015 at 19:16
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Just note that as a general rule in psychology, the adaptiveness of a trait depends on the context. In context A, the trait may be adaptive. But in context B, it may be maladaptive. No trait is purely adaptive or purely maladaptive. So in some domains, optimism will be most beneficial. But in other domains, pessimism will. $\endgroup$
    – mrt
    Commented Mar 16, 2015 at 19:34
  • $\begingroup$ I've edited the question a bit to hopefully clarify a few things. $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 16, 2015 at 23:39

3 Answers 3


I do believe these concepts should not be applied as in boolean logic, with either ALL PESSIMISTIC or ALL OPTIMISTIC, but in a rather spectral fashion.

Happiness is closely linked to having lower expectations:

(...) Robb Rutledge says, “Happiness depends not on how well things are going but whether things are going better or worse than expected.”

Pessimism also leads to being more careful:

"Our findings revealed that being overly optimistic in predicting a better future was associated with a greater risk of disability and death within the following decade," said lead author Frieder R. Lang, PhD, of the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg in Germany. "Pessimism about the future may encourage people to live more carefully, taking health and safety precautions."

(...) "Unexpectedly, we also found that stable and good health and income were associated with expecting a greater decline compared with those in poor health or with low incomes," Lang said. "Moreover, we found that higher income was related to a greater risk of disability."

There are pros and cons in each of them:

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.

Keeping up a mood tending to pessimistic while giving your best in the tasks might be a recipe for greater happiness due to lower expectancies.


I think the two can be mediated with being Realistic.

Sometimes, and in conclusion, this is pessimistic in nature - especially if one tends to dwell on things or generally 'suffer' from dampened, over-extensive neuronal networks.

Pessimism can lead to certain insights that can be a downward spiral of despair, but often lead to recognition of a situation that can be the light at the end of a tunnel.

I think the average stable persons' mindset flickers between the two, regardless of one's perceived outlook on life. It's about moderation.

I don't believe anything, pessimism or optimism, can lead to happiness - but anything can surely lead to some sort of contentment - which 'realistically' is the best we ought to hope for.

...and painlessness.


While this is not a credible answer, I'd like to share these personal anecdotes:

  • My greatest disappointment when buying a game was when the game was over hyped, and the reality did not live up to exaggerated expectations.

  • My greatest satisfaction with games came from discovering "hidden gems" - games which have no expectations attached to them.

We live in the world dominated by marketing, where it takes exaggerated promises and "hype" style marketing to sell anything or be noticed. This creates unrealistic expectations which are almost impossible to meet.

This is especially visible in the video game industry - there's a category of games called "early access games". These are unfinished games that are sold based on promises and "hype". Few of these games have ever lived up to the expectations. In general, there's backlash against "early access" products on game delivery platforms like Steam, particularly due to the feeling of disappointment that such titles create when they fail to deliver or fail to release.


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