It’s Better To Be A Pessimist Than An Optimist

In addition to the brilliant lecture above, the Wall Street Journal has a great article that reviews why pessimistic thinking is helpful

One pioneer of the “negative path” was the New York psychotherapist Albert Ellis, who died in 2007. He rediscovered a key insight of the Stoic philosophers of ancient Greece and Rome: that sometimes the best way to address an uncertain future is to focus not on the best-case scenario but on the worst.

Seneca the Stoic was a radical on this matter. If you feared losing your wealth, he once advised, “set aside a certain number of days, during which you shall be content with the scantiest and cheapest fare, with coarse and rough dress, saying to yourself the while: ‘Is this the condition that I feared?’ ”


Just thinking in sober detail about worst-case scenarios—a technique the Stoics called “the premeditation of evils”—can help to sap the future of its anxiety-producing power. The psychologist Julie Norem estimates that about one-third of Americans instinctively use this strategy, which she terms “defensive pessimism.” Positive thinking, by contrast, is the effort to convince yourself that things will turn out fine, which can reinforce the belief that it would be absolutely terrible if they didn’t.


Goals may even lead to underachievement. Many New York taxi drivers, one team of economists concluded, make less money in rainy weather than they could because they finish work as soon as they reach their mental target for what constitute a good day’s earnings.

More people are waking up to the fact that positive thinking doesn’t work. It has never worked. Instead, it diverts energy from putting in hard work and transfers it to daydreaming about an outcome that requires much more than just mental thought. Positive thinking is great if you want to set yourself up for one disappointment after another.

Many people tell me that I’m pessimistic, and I take it as a compliment, because it’s that pessimism which has allowed me to accept and endure tough spells in life to push through to the other side. If I didn’t get my mind ready to tackle a big problem, how would I keep my composure to face it? Instead I hope for the best but expect the worst. This old saying perfectly captures how a pessimistic person approaches life.

Read Next: “No Law Can Be Sacred To Me But That Of My Nature”

32 thoughts on “It’s Better To Be A Pessimist Than An Optimist”

    Being pessimistic is in fact another way of saying one is realistic in life. And this way two things happen:
    1. You never get disappointed since you were not expecting some miracle in your life.
    2. Whenever something god happens, you are pleasantly surprised.
    So to recap: being pessimistic means you are never disappointed, and more often than not you have pleasant surprises happen in your life.

  2. I’ve seen the effects of this firsthand. One of my closest friends always seems to be the happiest and most confident of our bunch, and he told me it’s because he always expects the worst. According to him, the pessimistic attitude has lead to his remarkable success with women, which I can also vouch for.
    I think I’m gonna work on adopting the same mindset.

  3. I disagree that positive thinking is just about daydreams… You, Roosh, are very methodical and adjust to reality in order to achieve the best possible result… That sounds like positive thinking turned into positive action with a realistic outlook if you ask me. I always imagined that’s how Arnold Schwarzennegger thought about it: just like that kind of mindset helped him push through long, painful sessions I’m sure it has helped you push hard in places like Denmark, Toronto and Estonia.

    1. I am an average guy. I find that the mental investment in positive outcomes leads to the biggest crushing dissapointments. When I think that I might not shoot my deer or get that lucrative contract Its like ces’t la vie. Oh well! Sweet is when you are successful against the realistic odds.

      1. While any kind of investment is important, I think that physical and active investment is more important than mere mental investment, as they’re probably more directly related to the outcome than anything else.

      2. No arguement. I have surprised myself when I scored without mentally convincing myself I was going to win for sure. My biggest dissapointments were when my natural pessimism was absent and I neither scored nor won.

  4. What about Napoleon Hill’s ‘positive mental attitude’ (PMA) in Think and grow rich, where he combines optimism and a commitment that has no time for daydreaming.

    1. He sells books to suckers (who rarely, if ever, get rich) and gets rich from them. Same with every Self Help peddler since the dawn of time.
      Hey, it’s the American Way.

  5. Roosh, what surprises me is why you didn`t read (or reviewed) Voltaire`s book “Candide”. It criticizes the optimistic thinking with such a humorous satire never seen again.
    Your “worst case scenario” on the beginning of Bang is an good example in the real world how pessimism cures us.
    This book is a must for those who still believes that the nose is made for wearing spectacles.

  6. There is ‘why bother’ pessimism/nihilism too that’s worse than all the things described. That is what is often referenced to by pessimism. Pessimism can also limit you, preventing you from taking risks and actions because ‘why bother’.
    Facing your fears and seeing what they really are is not pessimism to me, but strength.

    1. Pessimism is both limiting and risk free, but I see that in a rather optimistic way, unfortunately (which is good).
      When you have pessimistic mindset, or the “why bother” mindset, only your true passion(s) makes any sense. I think that you have reached the highest and simplest forms of mind sets, when you arrive at the childlike response to the “why bother” question, when the answer is “because, that’s why”. Yes, pessimism limits the buffet, but it leaves you with the cream della cream.
      Pessimism is also risk free. Enjoying life’s cream della cream by throwing yourself out of an airplane for no other reason the “because”, letting you life depend on a plastic bag strapped to your back, is somehow risk free. Knowing that you’ll probably die a horrible death upon impact, you have acknowledged that it is not the fall that’s gonna kill you, but the sudden stop at the end.
      There are no risks in life when you enjoy it.

  7. To reiterate what everyone is saying, I agree. I had major anger issues and would fly off the handle when someone said or did something stupid. Then I read, or was told (can’t remember), that if you expect someone to do something stupid, when they do it, you won’t be surprised, and less likely to get angry. Like driving, if you expect the granny in front of you to suddenly stop for no reason you’re not going to ram up the back of her.

  8. Jesus Christ, yet again I feel like I’m one of the last well-rounded or balanced people alive.
    Of course Optimism is bad if that’s all you ever think or are. Just like how a complete Extrovert would border on insanity, their excessive energy and eccentricity making them a spazzoid of epic proportions.
    All things in moderation. Any of you guys ever read the Tao of Pooh? Sure, being an “Eeyore” (a constant source of negativity/pessimism) isn’t going to help, but even Tigger would quiet down from time to time and contemplate things.
    And yes, I do realize I’m talking about storybook characters. Shut up, they’re some of my favorites.

  9. I watched the video and that was exceptional.
    He also said that being sad and showing sadness can be sexy, he did emphasis from the perspective of a male looking at a sad female.

  10. i think this also plays into the intense realism 50 and robert greene talk about in the 50th law. good link

  11. Thank you for mentioning Albert Ellis, developer of REBT (rational emotive behavioral therapy).
    An EXCELLENT, easy to learn and apply tool, for anyone but especially for those experiencing significant life challenges.

  12. Stoicism teached that the three highest virtues were fearlessness, tranquility and freedom.
    Being a pessimist is the best way of achieving these states of mind since if you expect the worst, then wealth and health and all the other joys of life are transient and their loss cannot hurt you.
    Stoicism got Admiral Stockdale through 5 years of torture in a vietnamese POW camp and Solzhenitsyn through 10 years in a Gulag.

  13. I was once asked in college why I always predicted failing any test or assignment. I simply responded, “because when I say I will fail and get a B, I have a great day. When you think you’re going to get an A and you get a B, your life is ruined.”

  14. Remember when I told you a while ago about Botton’s books and how you should be moving to that direction? Anyway I’m glad you got to see some of his work.
    As far as negative thinking, yes it’s true and it’s been going on for a while now as you mentioned.. I think it also has to do with the concept of attachment, which you’ve mentioned in a video I think too.. As in getting too attached to an idea/person etc that brings us happiness or we expect them to, will ultimately backfire if something goes wrong.. Does this make sense? Anyway I think both these concepts are part of the same idea, and I think ultimately the key to a better life is avoiding the extreme highs and lows (whether positive or negative), being self-sufficient and content with things that depend on us rather than outside sources, and always be prepared for the worst but not get overly excited if the best happens!
    PS: There’s nothing more annoying that people who advocate positive thinking about everything! Especially if the discussion also mentions the power of meditation! Now I’ll go watch that video.

  15. You are talking bullshit from a perspective you don’t know shit about. If you were actually pessimistic there wouldn’t be a bone in your body who would care about doing anything at all because all of it would be fucking shit. Don’t try to sell this unhappy attitude as some motivational dreck because you think you were depressed.It doesnt work, most of the guys who read your blog are already disappointed enough with life as it is and now youre trying to add some value to that pathological attitude? You’re worse than most feminists trying to keep men in an unhappiness bubble just to try to keep them productive. At least women keep beta losers productive to meet their own selfish needs but you just keep them in a non-affectionate state because without their approval your lifestyle wouldnt be worth it.
    Please don’t agree with this post

  16. This is a great lecture by the wonderful Alain de Botton whose books are quite an enjoyable and informative read. And the lecture seems to be derived mostly from material in “Status Anxiety”, with references to Nietzsche and Seneca from “The Consolations Of Philosophy”. Hopefully people won’t look at Roosh’s posting of this lecture and article with a single closed off mind. No-one in their right mind would think we can traverse life by being pessimistic about all things all the time. If so, Alain de Botton would never have written a book or given a speech or lecture. He would have moped around feeling lousy about being a frail, balding, wimpy looking man whose intellect counted for little. Without optimism actor Danny Trejo would still be sitting in a prison cell and Eddie Van Halen wouldn’t have spent countless hours of his youth sitting in his bedroom alone practicing his guitar. The argument comes back to one singular reality: trade-offs. E.VH. traded much of his youth for a desired (optimistic) result – women – by the harem load. And, of course, some handy legendry guitar licks.
    de Botton’s pessimism vs. optimism argument the way I see it is best summed earlier in his lecture with “Sometimes the principle of newspapers that murder, disease, crisis is the exception; it makes the news but in fact this is the news. This is all that ever happens. This feeling of being a historically abnormal position is really a misreading of the true facts of existence”. America’s Marxist In Chief recently said about gun control “if there’s even one life that can be saved, then we’ve got an obligation to try”. This was the next point de Botton covered by saying “Nowadays our philosophers and thinkers and public figures are often in the business of telling us how to make life better.”
    Chicago and Washington have strict gun laws and how’s that worked out fo saving lives? Australia banned almost all hand guns, semi-automatic rifles and all automatic shotguns after the Port Arthur massacre in 1996 where no one was armed to shoot back. As of last week we have now moved to here:
    At least we have border fences called the Indian and Pacific oceans that are at least slightly more effective than the lands of Fast and Furious. Good luck to those with the optimism to dissect and eviscerate the US Second Amendment.
    Politicians are always peddling optimistic ideas (stimulus package, tax package, welfare package) but have little interest in testing those ideas against reality. We mostly get it from the Left under the banner of their favourite utopian words – fairness and equality. Everything is an equal some game to them and there are no consequences. Tax the rich and give to the poor? Sounds fair and equal. And oh boy don’t we feel optimistic when we get a package!?
    If the Empty Suit is passionate about saving a single life, why doesn’t he start in Nancy Pelosi’s San Fransicko which for decades has had the world’s number one suicide location, the Golden Gate Bridge. How could the Sicko’s denizens watch Eric Steel’s film about the bridge and not demand fences to, you know, save a single life. Twenty to thirty (pessimistic?) people a year jump to their deaths from that bridge which is albeit a small portion of the yearly US suicides that happen at a rate of one every eighteen minutes. Why no fence? People are not willing to trade off there view of a beautiful bay and Alcatraz to simply save some pessimistic schmuck’s life.
    We live our lives with great degrees of what I see as standard daily optimism. When we travel by car we’re not pessimistic enough to think we’re going to die every time. But America loses around 800 people a week in automobile accidents. Look it up; over one hundred and ten a day! Far more than Sandy Hook. If an air bus went down in flames every other day US air travel would shut down within a fortnight. This is to me what de Botton was talking about with ‘the true facts of existence”.
    And there is the political divide between left and right, optimism and pessimism or as the great Thomas Sowell would call it, the constrained and unconstrained visions. Barack H. Oh Blather and the democrats sell optimistic rhetoric (Hope, Change, Fairness, and Equality) which Oh Blather’s career has been built on (Yes We Can) and is unconstrained by reality. He and VP Biden have never had real jobs or run a business and yet they won the right to run the country in an easy election win. Talk about optimism! And how’s that Hope and Change working out? The pessimistic constrained vision that Sowell has brilliantly elucidated over the years is more about those facts of existence that have been established over thousands of years of people’s trial, error, and knowledge. The constrained (Conservative) view is accepting the pessimistic view and taking the best possible trade-off in all that life throws at us including what de Botton covers in “Status Anxiety”: lovelessness, expectation, snobbery, dependence, and meritocracy.
    I can also clearly see the erroneous US meritocracy de Botton’s talking about in the anthesis of Van Halen which is “American Idol”. One of the repeated talking points over the years with that show is myriad wannabe stars that have seemingly never had a lesson, or even possessing any discernable talent, rolling up with family in tow at auditions only to be left often devastated at being rejected for a trip to Hollywood. This false and encouraged optimism is also played out across US high school basketball courts and football fields by hundreds of thousands of boys who think/told they’re going to the NBA or NFL when statistically their chances of being a physicist or neurologist are much better. There is also another “special” group who have overdosed on the optimism package they’ve been sold – The Sisterhood! More than ever the modern woman with her “independence and confidence” and optimism is reticent on settling for a man she thinks she doesn’t deserve. As in “I can do better”:
    The one point I clearly disagree with de Botton is on his complete kicking of Anthony Robbins to the curb. Robbins – or even Rev. Robert Schuler – doesn’t suggest people optimistically sit around waiting for life to be good to them. If someone is inquisitive about religion Robbins suggests visiting a catholic church, a mosque, a synagogue, and asking questions to learn as much as you can to evaluate the subject. Constantly evaluate your decisions about what works for you and what doesn’t and change your life’s direction to improve your happiness and pleasure. There’s nothing nonsensical or unrealistic about that. Some self-help jargon has helped people overcome a number of vices.
    With all subjects that affect our lives there are thousands of variables to be optimistic or pessimistic about without concluding an incontrovertible right or wrong. Just take the success afforded by the best possible trade-off. All in all this lecture and article was another excellent posting at Return of Kings that provides articles and topics that the feminized mainstream media eschews.
    Now I’m putting a skull onto my desktop background.

  17. Its funny that I watched that video after listening to a Tony Robbins clip on youtube. Both optimism nor pessimism have their place but neither is an ideal way to have success and happiness. The place between optimism and pessimism is realism which is what everyone should strive for long term success and happiness. People make the mistake of attributing being realistic to being pessimistic, they are not the same.

  18. I recently decided to become more negative!
    Thanks Roosh!
    Optimism is a religion. It gives you an imaginary support system.
    A healthy balance of both is ideal I think. Some lean more towards negativity, others lean more towards positivity. We all have to find the right doseage for us to be happy and productive. I like 60% pos – 40% neg.

  19. Slight correction to the apothegm, which I believe is a Holocaust proverb:
    “Expect the worst, hope for the best, and take what comes.”

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