The Impact of Optimism and Pessimism in Life

One’s reaction and sustained attitude about life events is often labeled as either optimistic, neutral, or pessimistic. Optimists project a positive outcome even in face of difficult situations, while pessimists presume negative outcomes even in neutral or even in promising conditions. That proclivity is innate but can be altered with practice and expanded awareness.


From childhood, some youngsters exhibit tendencies to defy the odds and forge ahead with attempting to conquer a task that is labeled as “unachievable”, while others reticently withdraw while accepting adults’ depictions of them as “unambitious”. The two deciding factors about one’s response to challenges are their innate personality traits and the type of connection they had established in their youth with an instructional adult.


In adulthood, we remove the relationship element and label individuals as, “amenable to guidance” or, “resistant to receiving instructions”. Both positions can actually be healthy if they were worded differently. “Resistant to receiving instructions” may be rephrased as “self- propelling”, “creative”, “individualistic” or “a determined problem solver”. Conversely, “open to suggestions” may be interpreted as a “dependent, appreciation seeker.”


The universal human need for approval begins very early in life when infants attempt to please their parents to secure their food, love, and care for their survival. Not dissimilarly, employees attempt to please their supervisors for respect, validation and security of employment.


Personality testing can distinguish those who are “People Pleasers” from those who are “Task Oriented”. Both groups are similarly geared for the same outcome: Pleasing others to receive satisfaction, respect and security of employment, which concomitantly validates their competence, worthiness and secured livelihood.


Those who regale themselves with beliefs about not being appreciated enough, respected or admired on the job often use the same themes in their family life, with friends and even acquaintances. The “poor me” self-perception leaves them feeling victimized and rejected as they blame others for treating them unfairly.

A “Pediatrics & Child Health” article about “Effective discipline for children” states, “To be effective, discipline needs to be: Given by an adult with an affective bond to the child; Be consistent, close to the behavior needing change; Perceived as ‘fair’ by the child; Be developmentally and temperamentally appropriate; self-enhancing; and ultimately leading to self-discipline.”

Children who are raised with the above principles are more likely to handle authority on the job and in life with a humble acceptance, respect for their supervisors and abide by their superiors’ job requests without feeling oppressed or victimized.

Raise optimistic children/ Treat adults with respect:

  • Reason- rather than use control to force your child/employee or others to become compliant.
  • Encourage your youngster/ co-worker to express his/her opinions, even when options are limited.
  • Be respectful, not dismissive of your youngster’s, co-worker’s or superior’s objections or displeasure.
  • Accept that divergence of needs, wants or opinions are not about you and deal with them with respect, dignity and kindness.
  • Affirm yourself for being accepting, fair, open-hearted and sensitive as you model these practices to others.

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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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