Are You an Optimist or a Pessimist?

MP900305720A pessimist is someone who makes difficulties of his opportunities and an optimist is someone who makes opportunities of his difficulties.

Harry Truman


Are you an optimist or a pessimist? An optimist tends to see the positive possibilities in every situation. A pessimist tends to see the negative possibilities. Optimists expect good things to happen, while pessimists expect negative outcomes. One sees the glass half full, while the other sees the glass half empty. While lengthy, I have included one of my favorite jokes, that illustrates the concept.

Once there was a woman who had two sons. One was an extreme pessimist, while the other was an extreme optimist. They were both so extreme that they drove her up a wall. She went to her pastor for some suggestions on how she could temper their optimism and pessimism. He said he thought he could help. Christmas was approaching. He suggested that she make her pessimistic son’s Santa presents the best ever. He said she should go over the top to get him everything she could think of that he might want. He suggested that such a fabulous Christmas morning might break him of his extreme pessimism. The mother said it would be expensive, but that it would be worth it. 

She then asked him what she should do about her overly optimistic son. The pastor noted that the family owned a farm, to which she agreed. He said she should take a cardboard box out to the barn. She should fill it with manure. She was instructed to tape it shut, wrap it in wrapping paper and put a bow on top. He suggested that if her optimistic son received only a box of manure on Christmas morning, it might break him of his extreme optimism. The mother agreed.

Christmas morning came. The mother watched as the boys came down stairs to see their presents. The pessimistic son went to his side of the tree. He found many wonderful presents, including a bicycle, a skateboard and roller skates. He just stood and stared at it all. Then he started to cry.

He sobbed, “Mama, why does Santa hate me so much?”

His mother asked him what he meant.

He said, “Santa must hate me, because he wants me to die. He gave me a bicycle so I would break my neck. If that doesn’t kill me, he gave me a skateboard. And if that doesn’t do the job, he gave me roller skates, just to make sure. Mama, this is the worst Christmas ever!”

The mother sighed, “Well, that didn’t work”.

She went over to the optimistic son’s side of the tree. He had opened the wrapped box, and was digging in the manure. She asked him what he thought about his Christmas.

He replied excitedly, “Mama, I’m not sure, but I think there’s a pony in here somewhere!”


Research suggests that traits of optimism or pessimism may sometimes be inherited, but the results aren’t clear on this point. We do know that such thinking patterns can be learned, and that they are habitual.

This week, notice whether you tend to be an optimist or a pessimist. Unlike the joke, there’s nothing wrong with being an optimist, as long as you recognize reality, but being a pessimist can surely hurt you. If you notice yourself having pessimistic tendencies, consciously look for the positive things in your day and in your life (i.e. count your blessings). Make a gratitude list. Deliberately paying attention to the positive parts of our lives can gradually diminish those pessimistic tendencies.

Question: What techniques have you found helpful in becoming a more positive person?