Why Optimists Have a Bad Name

Why Optimists Have a Bad Name

“Don’t be a downer.”

“Turn that frown upside down!”

“Your smile is on backwards!”

Annoying cliches like the above would make anyone want to choke you.

People who try to compensate unhappiness with overoptimism gives others a false insight into optimism as a whole.

Living as an optimist isn’t about being happy 100% of the time or walking around with a smile on your face. You know what everyone calls people who try to fit into that mold?


Crazy SmileI had a teacher in high school who was exactly the all cheers and wide smiles type who was always trying her best to give off this false image that she was happy.

Quite frankly, everyone thought she was a bit crazy and she didn’t come across as genuine at all. It didn’t help that word got out she was talking crap about her classes behind their back (after putting on a false front of “I’d always support you guys no matter what!”)

It also wasn’t very hard to figure out who she really was when she was constantly telling students to “Fake it until you make it” without providing the proper context. Hint: the FIUYMI model only works with a proper followup.

Blah, the whole plastic smiles and I’m always happy sort of overcompensation makes me want to barf.

But even with my seemingly critical remarks, I’d still consider myself an optimist…

And a realist. That’s the important part, the balance.

Don’t mistaken realism for pessimism. Just because you’re not all cheers and smiles 24/7 doesn’t mean you’re a Debbie Downer.

Optimism needs to be kept in check and grounded in reality. It also needs to be genuine and not forced.

It can’t be blind beliefs of “it’ll always work out in the end.”

Being positive isn’t about how you look on the outside. Your voice doesn’t have to be cheery and high pitched. Your face doesn’t always have to tensed together like a clown.

It’s more about the mindset and what’s going on in your head.

Do you work against yourself? Do you put yourself down?

Or do you tell yourself that it doesn’t matter if you fail this time around because you’ll work twice as hard next time?

That’s the sort of mentality that makes an optimistic realist.

And that’s the sort of thinking we should all have if we want to remove the black mark from the optimists’ name.

Why Optimists Have a Bad Name2

Photo Credit: joseloya

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Vincent Nguyen is the author of Self Stairway and founder of Growth Ninja, a digital marketing agency that specializes in Facebook Ads. Voted "Most Guapo" five years in a row (lost during 6th year to a hand model.)

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25 responses to Why Optimists Have a Bad Name

  1. Hi Vincent, I like your take on optimism. I consider myself an optimist, and I am usually cheerful and smiley. The problems arise when, like your teacher, you aren’t true to your word. It only takes one act to lose someone’s trust, so I think it’s important to take into consideration how the other person might be feeling before going all Pollyanna on them!

    The whole “things happen for a reason” really gets me going – in a bad way, and that is the last thing I’d want to hear if someone I love died or was going through a hard time. Sometimes things are sad or bad for a spell, and it would be unnatural to plaster a smile on your face and pretend it’s ok. I work with children and I think it’s essential for them to experience setbacks and hard times and learn how to come through them and reflect on how and why the world works the way it does.

    Thank you for a thought-provoking article!

    • Blah… “Things always happen for a reason.” That’s the worst! I used to always hear that as a kid and around the first time I’ve heard it I raised an eyebrow. So you’re saying I fell on the playground and hurt my arm so badly I couldn’t play basketball for two weeks for a reason!? GRRRR…

      Even worse is when someone says that during a situation like you said, a death. Better to just keep quiet then to try to fill the silence with pseudo-insightful bull like that.

  2. I’m definitely too much of a realist leaning towards being negative & its a hard cycle to break, but I’m working on it. My mom was always a positive person, but my dad is pretty negative so I was always on the defense & trying to think ahead of him so I’m always trying to channel my mother.

    Also, your posts are showing up blank when I click on them through Bloglovin’ so you might want to check into that πŸ™‚

    • Trying your best to emulate your mother’s way of thinking is a good idea! I also ask myself how my role models would think in a given situation. It helps me remove the whiney inefficiency that often comes out of me. πŸ™‚

  3. Except, if you can pull of a genuine smile on command, maybe you can actually make yourself happier just by smiling more. Sounds silly, and i forgot what the effect is called but some weirdo scientists swear by it.(tried it and seems to work somewhat super short term at least.)

    Now I’m not suggesting this as a magical fix to your worries, just something interesting to try out.

    On the other side of the coin one study about positive affirmations showed they made depressed people (not momentarily disouraged optimists) feel worse instead of better. I had the same experience myself with the standard ones. Felt like lying and made me feel extra bad, haha. The more realistic approach of focusing my thoughts on the things i did right, and thinking about how i could do even more good things worked much better for me. So go realistic optimism!

  4. Interesting article.
    I don’t like the idea of seeing everything positive as well. I guess everyone who’s read a self improvement book has tried doing it just to find out that it’s not natural to live that way.

    Your article did make me think of an experiment I once read for college. It was about how people with depression tend to look more realistic at events than people without one. People without a depression usually rate everything they do less realistic then people with a depression.

    So I think a middle way will be best in this case. Accepting that we can be negative at times while knowing that we always can find of a way out.

    Thanks, enjoyed your article,

    • I’ve definitely had my fair share of overdoing the optimism thing. It wasn’t quite the level of shoving “Put a smile on your face!” down others’ throats, but it was pretty gnarly (in a bad way.)

      Interesting. Let me know if you remember the name of the experiment. Sounds like a good read!

      • Hehe, I think it’s hard to go back once you reach the point of shoving it down others’ throats.

        I already let you know on Twitter that I’ll send you the experiment when I’m at my folk’s home. Cool you asked, it was a big book called ‘clinical psychology’ (only in Dutch unfortunately) with many theories and experiments. Definitely shone some light on human psychology.


  5. Your observation (and it is an excellent point) that people are incredibly aware when another is putting something over like faking it makes me wonder. Is it that some “actors/actresses” are so lousy at faking? Is it because they don’t believe it themselves? Is it because they aren’t reflecting what they are really feeling?

    I think about how easily the garden variety con artists, serial criminals, yes – even family members, can get us to do what we normally would not. That is, go along without diligence or analyzing the situation before acting. It can be dangerous.

    • Some people just cake it on too much and we’re not all naturally gifted actors and actresses. There probably are a lot of people out there who do a wonderful job at playing the balanced optimist on the outside but is really a tortured soul on the inside. We never know.

      That’s why I try to be careful to treat everyone well. Even people who seem like they can take anything may be secretly wishing everyone treated them better.

  6. I try to look at the best side of things when its reasonable. But whenever I look at a situation and the outcome seems negative people assume I am a pessimist but I say I’m a realist πŸ™‚

  7. Interesting little story about the fraudlent teacher. I would hate to be around her because how can you trust when she is authentic.

    I think you are right optimism and realism are a perfect blend. You will not always be happy and at the same time being aware that you will not always be not happy is important too. Always trying to be happy or expecting others to be happy isn’t accepting how life is, which is an changing emotional ride.

    • Yup, definitely not a fan of her anymore. I bought her act for the first half of the year until I wised up. The moment I woke up was like the whole mirror shattering thing haha.

      Exactly. I think expecting to be happy 24/7 actually negatively does you in a bit more as you’re hit with reality inch by inch on a daily basis.

  8. Realist, surely.

    That is who I am, and that is who I always will be.

    To the rest of the world’s perception, my stand may be relatively given a twist.

    Like the overly optimistic would term me a pessimist.

    But then the pessimist would think I am overly optimistic.

    Life, bro.

    Anyway, in as much as I keep things Balanced, I’m good to go.

  9. Great attitude Tope!

  10. I have a question, is their a difference between personality and attitude? If their is , what is it ?Nice article, by the way.

    • I think personality is something a bit more difficult to change. Arguably, it’s not voluntarily changed but rather molded out of experience.

      Attitude, however, is something you can change through conscious effort.

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