The Power of Pessimism

For several decades, through these weekly columns that appear in newspapers, magazines, and online publications around the world as well as my books, movies, and speeches, I have endeavored to convince people that having a positive attitude, focusing their energy, and acting upon their motivations can bring positive results in their lives and the people around them. 

My late, great colleague, mentor, and friend Zig Ziglar was fond of saying, “I’m an optimist.  I would go after Moby Dick in a rowboat and take the tartar sauce with me.”

Unfortunately, our society seems to be predominantly populated by people who do not believe that being an optimist is worthwhile.  Many of these individuals communicate to me that motivation and a positive attitude are just smoke and mirrors that might create temporary euphoria or warm, fuzzy feelings but don’t really matter in the real world. 

Sometimes, it’s easier to prove the opposite side of an argument.  According to recent research conducted by Dr. Michael Scheier, “In general, pessimists don’t perform as well in life as optimists.  They tend to deny, avoid, and distort the problems they confront and dwell on their negative feelings.”  Dr. Scheier cites five specific scientifically-provable results of being a pessimist.

· Pessimism kills your creativity.  We always find what we’re looking for, and pessimists seem to focus on negative results or nothing at all which does not promote innovative creative thinking.  The research also shows that pessimists hinder the creativity of colleagues, friends, and family members around them. 

· Pessimism harms you emotionally.  The scientific study indicates that while motivation wears off and has to be renewed constantly, pessimism actually sticks with you and isreinforced when you have a fleeting negative thought.  This brief shot of pessimism can instantly bring back all of the negative thoughts and emotions you have had and can stay with you long term. 

· Pessimism hurts you professionally.  The statistics show that your attitude will affect your measurable performance on the job and will impact those around you negatively.  This poor performance and bad attitude will keep you from promotions and bonuses while moving you ever closer to the unemployment line.

· Pessimism damages relationships.  Your friends and loved ones may not even directly notice your pessimism, but they will be aware of how they feel when they are around you or immediately after they have been in your presence.  We subconsciously judge others by how they make us feel.

· Pessimism makes you sick.  You’ve heard of the placebo effect which causes people to get better because they think they’re going to get better whether the treatment they are receiving is valid or not.  The scientists studyingpessimism came up with a term they call “nocebo” which, basically, indicates that if you think you’re going to feel bad you will, and if you believe you’re going to get sick, you will likely be proven correct.  The research went on to show that pessimism can lead directly to heart attacks and other serious problems including dementia. 

If I haven’t convinced you to be an optimist yet, I hope the current scientific research will at least motivate you to stop being a pessimist. 

As you go through your day today, avoid the power of pessimism, be optimistic, and live well.

Today’s the day!

Jim Stovall is the president of Narrative Television Network, as well as a published author of many books including The Ultimate Gift.  He is also a columnist and motivational speaker.  He may be reached at 5840 South Memorial Drive, Suite 312, Tulsa, OK  74145-9082; by email at; or on Facebook at


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