Parenting Philosophy Talking Point

Optimist or pessimist?

Learned Optimism
Written by Kirstie Pelling

Talking Point 10: My glass is half empty…

Last night our sleepy village became Gotham City; a dark and forbidding place with a river gushing down the footpath and blocked drains flooding the pavements. Well that’s what I saw anyway. Because I’m a pessimist. Stuart saw an opportunity to put on our wellies and skip to the village carol concert in the pub. Because he’s an optimist.

This morning we found the living room flooded. My first move was to escape. But the car wouldn’t start. Rain had flooded the starter motor which then froze in the night. I kicked the car loudly, and wept silently as Stuart dismantled the living room. Because I’m a pessimist. Stuart saw an opportunity to get rid of an old carpet and sand the floor. He also saw an opportunity to get out into The Lakes on a bike ride instead of driving anywhere this weekend. Because he’s an optimist.

Learned optimism?

Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your LifeWhen it all goes pear shaped I wobble and crumble.  Stuart thrives. It’s just how we are. He’s been reading a book called Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life. He thinks it explains everything. Apparently my pessimism stems from my parents and upbringing and an unhelpful thinking habit. And from the fact I’m a girl. But being an optimist he tells me it’s changeable. The subtitle of the book is “How to change your mind and your life.” He’d better be careful if I decide to change my life.

It seems I don’t have to be a pessimist forever. But the thing is, what if being a pessimist makes me happy? What then?

Talking Point

Are you a glass half full or glass half empty kind of person? Do you think you can ever change? Would you want to?

Join the conversation

Talking Point is our series of short Photo Friday posts. Each week we pick a photo, post a talking point and invite you to join the conversation. Do leave a comment with your thoughts.

About the author

Kirstie Pelling

Kirstie is the Editor of The Family Adventure Project. A professional writer and poet, she's the creative and journalistic force behind many of the stories and features published here. She's a co-founder and co-director of The Family Adventure Project and also works as the #poetinmotion producing and performing poetry for print, video and live performance.


  • This optimism/pessimism thing divides us just as well. And frankly, I am not even a very good optimist, I am too often wrong. But for me the entire exercise resembles Pascal’s bet: If both the optimist and the pessimist are wrong half the time, the optimist had a better time throughout. He enjoyed not worrying when things turned out right, and his worries wouldn’t have helped when things went wrong, except to a gastric ulcer. (Note that optimism in this example does not equal carelessness, an ill-prepared person who is wrong half the time is 50% dead, broke, or sick.)

    • It’s interesting that you are divided this way too Thomas. I wonder if it’s more universal than I thought in partnerships? In which case perhaps the optimists are always hoping they can change their partner, while the pessimists are too busy worrying about the end of the world to even bother? And I wonder if there’s a dominant gene in your kids or it’s all down to conditioning??

  • Oh – I love this post. I am definitely the glass half full in this house. My husband is the ultimate pessimist but believes he is a realist – hmmm yeah right. Honestly I feel like life would be pretty boring if things didn’t get changed up a bit and usually it leads to something positive along the way. Or possibly an experience that the family would never had if it weren’t for something “going wrong”. Bumps along the road are just a handful of opportunities to try out a different path while traveling through this thing we call life.

    I might have to find that book for the pessimist in the family one day.

    Thanks for the thought provoking post as we stay bundled up inside trying to keep warm.

    • Ah but is that bump in the road really an opportunity or could it be a speed trap? Maybe I’m more pessimistic than I thought.
      And I should read that book but chick lit is so much more tempting on a cold winter’s night. Great to hear from you again. Have you had enough of the British weather yet?

  • They say the Optimist lives in the best of all possible worlds and the Pessimist thinks that may be true.

    I’ve seen more optimists crack under stress than pessimists. When the optimists world falls apart its catastrophic. When the pessimist world falls apart its just another day.

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