Optimist, Pessimist, Realist; is One Happier Than the Other?

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Our mental state is the most important thing in our human psyche’ and it determines so many things in our lives. What really makes us happy is a question that has been debated by many philosophers over thousands of years.

Optimist, pessimist, or realist – is one happier than the other? The truth is that all three may be equally happy with themselves. Happiness comes from within, and there are several factors that can induce happiness. The Optimist may seem happier, but these three schools of thought are just the tip of the iceberg.

I wanted to understand each of these schools of thought much better so I did decided to do a bit of research. Being mostly an optimist myself, my assumption has always been that optimist are happier, or at least feel happier. There has got to be huge benefit to all that optimistic positive thinking right?

I learned that there are several elements to understanding happiness as an emotion. Surprisingly, that doesn’t mean that one school of thought is better than the other. Turns out optimists, pessimists, and realists, can all be equally happy. The outcome of our happiness lies in all three schools and much deeper roots than just positive thinking.

“Turns out optimists, pessimists, and realists, can all be equally happy.” ~ Simple Minded

Optimist

An optimist is a person who believes that good will ultimately prevail and that no matter the outcome, there is reason and purpose behind it that is for the best. Optimists tend to be hopeful and confident about the future success of something.

A common misconception about optimists is that they are always positive and never have a negative emotion, and this is simply not the case. Everyone experiences both optimistic moments and pessimistic moments. It really comes down to your emotional perception of the situation.

Optimist try and find a positive outlook or result in situations. They tend to have an internal locus of control, meaning that they focus their energy on what they can do to change something.

The notion of becoming an optimist was popularized when Norman Peale published “The Power of Positive Thinking” in 1956.

Optimists ten to feel as though they can take on any situation. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean that they are the happiest with themselves.

Pessimist

The pessimist is the opposite of an optimist. They tend to see a world that is as bad as it gets and most likely believes that bad will trump good. Pessimist tend to see the worse in people and always expects the worst-case scenario to be prevalent.

The same rules apply to pessimists as they do optimists, things are not always bad; they can be good sometimes. When a pessimist gets a promotion, the reaction is more along the lines of “Wow, they actually picked me” than “I worked really hard for this.”

A pessimist has a negative outlook on things and is the most common school of thought in most societies.  The idea of simply blaming oneself and having negative thoughts of oneself is an unrealistic stereotype of pessimistic people.

Pessimists plan for the worse, thinking ahead of all negative possible outcomes, and then this allows them to take a defensive stance in the situation and plan for the problem.

Realist

The realist is a combination between the optimist and the pessimist. It takes some real talent to be a realist, and it also doesn’t mean that you are a complete balance between both schools of thought. The realist tends to see both sides of a situation and determines the most likely outcome.

This person is a good problem solver, a great mediator, and an even better planner. They can realistically predict outcomes based on their past experiences and find a good medium. A realistic person can sometimes be brutally honest.

A Realist knows when arguing is pointless and when to step up and say something. Having a realistic point of view on situations allows the realist to advance in the direction they chose. Realist tends to be more laid back than most.

The realist is known as a pessimist by the optimist and an optimist by pessimists. This is because they have a realistic viewpoint of situations that may not agree with either school of thought. Either way, realists seem to be the most content with themselves, and a lot more accepting of situations.

Idealist

These schools of thought would not be complete without including the idealist in here as well.  Idealists tend to focus on the more ideal society type of situations, such as free water and building more homeless shelters.

The idealist is said to be out of touch with reality and unable to achieve the unimaginable. Out of all three classes of thought, the idealist has it the worst. These loving people tend to study things that center around humanity and high social roles.

The most common role an idealist plays in society is a teacher and a Doctor. These traits help these individuals find happiness by assigning meaning in helping others achieve their dreams and goals.

These schools of thought are all relative to one’s happiness that is found inside the individual psyche’

Optimist Pessimist Realist Idealist
The world is generally a good place. Predators and prey, which one are you. The world has good and bad in it’ it just depends on the situation. The world would be a much better place if everyone was educated.
Good trumps bad Bad always wins Everything needs a balance Kumbaya
Internal locus of control External locus of control External/internal locus of control External locus of control
Hyper Calm Laidback Peaceful, joyful

Happiness

Happiness is determined by how you feel about yourself and the decisions that you make regarding your own life. You find the meaning behind what you do, and then you will be happy.

Although optimists are generally “happier” than most others, pyschologists may argue that this is perceived happiness and not real happiness. Real happiness comes from your own desires to find meaning in what you do and how you do it. These little pleasure bugs are what drives us to do and to achieve what we desire – despite our outlook on life.

Viktor Frankl is a psychologist that states that the meaning of life is to simply survive and be alive. Viktor Frankl was in a WW2 concentration camp, who eventually found freedom and happiness by accepting who he was, and his role in society. His book has helped change many lives over the years and has been the basis for many philosophical conversations about happiness.

Viktor Frankl developed what is known as logotherapy, and explained that even suffering has meaning, and one can find happiness through meaning. Happiness can come from several different sources and meanings, depending on you. The basics of happiness are comprised of the main parts, hedonism, desire theory, and objective list theory. Viktor Frankl believes the individual has their own meanings of existence and must strive to find meaning, which will result in finding happiness.

“Find the meaning behind what you do, and then you will be happy. ” ~ Simple Minded

Hedonism

It is the belief that we hold two things valuable in deciding happiness for ourselves, pleasure and pain. If the pleasure points are higher than the pain points, then you are relatively happier.  Hedonism is not only a philosophy of living but the moral compass of judgment that holds true to most individuals.

If something is pleasurable, then you mainly want more of it, if something causes pain, then you want to get away from it.

One of the biggest criticisms of hedonism is that if you get the experience you want all the time then it removes the value of what is causing you pleasure. Although this is completely true, it is not hedonism in practice.

Hedonism in practice should be a balance that allows one to experience painful and/or or negative feelings, giving you a base to establish on your own. This leaves the decision of happiness up to the individual experiencing it.

  1. Pleasure brings positive feelings
  2. Pain brings negative feelings
  3. Everything is basic and comes down to these two functions, like a binary code

Desire Theory

In 1986 Griffin came up with the desire theory, meaning that the route to happiness is based on your desires and the ability to accomplish or obtain what you want. These must fit into the moral and character judgments of who we see ourselves being.

If you just sat in a room and got everything you desired, then you would also not be happy because the reward came with little to no effort. You have nothing to appreciate, to compare or build value in the desired object.

The same theory applies to intangible things such as promotions, certain jobs, celebrity status, or other opportunities in life. You can see the moral judgments call with common statements such as, “ At least I got there honestly.”

The Desire theory holds strong up to a certain point, but there is more that helps determine human happiness.

Objective Theory

The objective theory states that an individual’s happiness is directly related to the accomplishments of that individual’s life. These could be simple or complex accomplishments based on the individual.

Accomplishing something big, or marrying the girl/guy of your dreams will make even the most depressing people happy for a moment. A big part of happiness must contain some type of emotion into the decision of how you feel.

The company of others is the main element in the objective theory, in order to gain something, you must help with someone else’s problem, or help make someone else happy. Bring pleasure to someone else’s life.

Having something short-lived, or easily forgotten has more to do with self-image than it does happiness. That said, the desire to experience pleasure, and increase your self-image or self-worth to your community has the most value to the human psyche.

Self-Worth

Your self-image, self-esteem, and self-worth all contribute to your overall happiness as an individual. Having a good self-image of yourself is the first step in happiness. If you are okay with the decisions you make then you are happy.

Having positive self-esteem comes from the way that you see yourself or your self-image. This doesn’t mean compare yourself to others, but it does mean to pay attention to your own intrinsic value. Everyone has that inner critic that easily compares them to others.  Try to make improvements based on your own merits and not the merits of others.

Your self-worth is about your own personal qualities that make up the person you see in the mirror.

Studies show that basing your self-worth on internal sources of data, rather than external sources of data can lead to higher leaves of self-happiness.

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Relativity

Have you heard the term “happiness is all relative to your experiences”? From a hedonistic point of view, sure.  What is stopping someone who lives completely out of our own moral compass from being happy?

The person who is out all hours of the night, doing drugs, having casual sex, and other things that may seem inappropriate, the most we hear is how sad these people are, but are they? It is relative to the things that bring you pleasure and pain.

Relativity itself simply means the absence of standards of absolute and universal application. Meaning that the meaning behind something can change with the times, or with any variables because it has no definitive path or direction. Because our minds are prone to operating in a constant state, this creates a dissonance in our own minds.

Happiness is relative to your own perspective on the situation. This comes down to your individual morals and values that you have based on your own personal identity. A combination of hedonism, desire theory, and objective theory is all relative to your own experiences.

“Sometimes you’re the Bug, Sometimes you’re the windshield “ ~ Mark Knopfler

Social Confirmation and Human Happiness

Let’s take a look at our social atmosphere and how it relates to our happiness. Being comfortable with your current situation is something that can truly make anyone happy, and having behavioral confirmation of things can have either a positive or a negative effect on our happiness.

This type of disconfirmation occurs when your expectations are higher than the outcome. You’re getting excited about the Disney trip, and when you get there, and half of the rides are closed.  Your expectation leads to your over-excitement, which increased your happiness, and then you let yourself down.

A self-fulfilling prophecy is a term used to describe behavioral confirmation, as it can shape one’s own reality. This basically works by an individual assigning pre-conceived ideas based on information gathered from other experiences, and some of your own to determine a direction of action. These actions then guide the individual along to the result.

This is often re-iterated by optimists when referring to “the power of positive thinking,” it is a positive spin on the behavioral confirmation theory.  And by pessimists stating “I knew it was going to happen to me, it always happens to me.”

Cognitive Dissonance Theory

The human mind needs to work in a state of consistency, so any change to that consistency can create an inconsistency in behavior, and the human mind will respond. The human mind will employ various methods to return to a constant state or a stable state.

Cognitive dissonance occurs when there are conflicting attitudes towards a situation, which can add to the pain portion of the hedonism in the human happiness formula. Your mind must solve the issue. Imagine three circles: two say okay, and one says not okay. This is constant, now if one changes to not okay, and the other is okay, the third blank, this is an inconsistency and a cognitive dissonance.

A simpler example of cognitive dissonance is let’s say that you met this new person that you are really into. They smoke, and you don’t but are willing to accept it. It ranks a 3 on your scale of unattractive behavior. Then you find out that they follow a religion that you are not fond of. Now there are two circles that tell you no and only one circle that says yes.

These things disagree with your morals and thus cause a dissonance. Your mind is in a state of unease. You must either change your perspective on the religion or cut this person loose to close the dissonance and create consistency again, restoring your happiness.

Having everything perfectly balanced is almost impossible, but recognizing that it is okay to not like something and still be a happy person is way better than feeling as though you are not in control of your own life.

“Being content with ourselves and finding meaning in our lives is the only way to truly be happy.” ~ Simple Minded

Conclusion: Happiness from a Realists Point of View

We are all prisoners of our own devices, and we can only be as happy as we allow ourselves to be. Sometimes happiness may not be what it seems. You would think that being homeless would make you unhappy, and for me, that is completely true. Surprisingly there are some people that are happy with the simplicity of it all.

They have no worries, no bills, and a high sense of community. Many of these people suffer from mental illness and drug abuse problems, but there are many who are happy with themselves for the most part. Not all, but a few have stated that they wouldn’t want to change their situation, they would miss their friends.

As I would not be happy at all in this type of situation, these people have found meaning in what they do, and that alone is the key to happiness.

Being content with ourselves and finding meaning in our lives is the only way to truly be happy.

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Jodie Locklear
Jodie is a former art teacher turned Graphic/UX Designer and QA Manager. She's applied her knowledge of visual design and software testing on many projects over the years, ranging from small businesses to large well known brands and organizations. In her spare time, she enjoys reading, blogging, and travel. View About Page

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