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Realist vs Idealist vs Optimist – (the differences)

In this blog post, we will talk about the differences between Realist vs Idealist vs Optimist.

Keep reading to understand what these three character traits mean. We also speak about the latest research in depressive realism and unrealistic optimism.

These are very interesting concepts that you definitely need to look into.

You should also look into the differences between Realist vs pessimist vs optimist vs idealist.

Realist vs Idealist vs Optimist

Realist vs Idealist vs Optimist – these three character traits are often confused or misunderstood, but the truth is that the difference between these concepts is significant.

A truly realistic person accepts both the fact that things can take a bad turn and the way things can take a very good turn.

He keeps all his “doors open” and very easily “gives it optimism” if he pays attention only to the good parts.

The opposite of the word “idealist” is “realistic”, which means that an idealistic person is not realistic.

He demands the impossible and loses sight of its limits, possibilities and needs.

He finds himself striving to perfection, according to his criteria of perfection most of the time, which is too difficult to achieve.

An optimistic person knows that in any situation he only has something to gain (most of the time it is), and he takes advantage of his chances every time they appear.

He accepts both success and failure because he knows they are complementary, and they usually come bundled.

He is aware that the relationship between them depends on him … and as time goes on, success becomes second nature.

There is another type, pessimistic optimist who believe that there is a balance between the good and bad things.

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A realistic person sees things as they are. It does not tip the scales in seeing experience more pleasant than it is, but no less pleasant, as a pessimist would do.

She will accept the good events and the bad events in her life, uninfluenced by optimism or pessimism.

On the other hand, sometimes it is better not to consider all the data of the equation and to enjoy good positivity and energy.

Such situations include interviews or first meeting with a potential life partner.

In such cases it would be far too stressful to keep both good and bad things in balance, so focus on what you have to offer.


An idealist is a person who aspires to an ideal, a person devoid of a sense of reality, of a practical spirit. 

Rather than criticizing oneself, an idealist criticizes others from their environment, who are not “so perfect,” according to their criteria.

Thus, an idealist often lives in an inner rage, rarely letting it out, so as not to seem “imperfect”. 

An idealistic perfectionist thinks he is a perfectionist after he has managed to “do” good. He identifies with what he does, not what he is.

He asks for the impossible, because it is utopian to believe that you can find perfection in the material world, more precisely in the physical, emotional and mental world.


An optimistic person always tends to see the full side of the glass. She will think that what is happening to her is a good thing, that she will have a pleasant experience, often even if it is obvious that it is not so.

When you are optimistic, you accept and memorize only the good things that happen to you.

You take on the facts when it’s good, but you blame someone else or your destiny when they don’t come out the way you want them to.

Moreover, you think of failure as an isolated case, which you try to get over as quickly as possible.

Optimism helps us take responsibility, realism also tells us when to accept evil. Being such a person, you can enjoy successes and learn to accept your failures as they are, and even learn from them.

A dose of optimism is actually healthy, but like anything else used in excess, it does more harm than good. 

Choose to balance optimism by assuming the failures or problems that have arisen over time.

Between depressive realism and unrealistic optimism: how do we find our balance?

In the classical opinion, positive cognitions bring advantages in the life of individuals and it is preferable for them to have an optimistic perspective on events rather than a realistic or pessimistic one.

Do realistic cognitions make us happier?

We would say no, if we judge based on studies in the field, for example, to make a comparison between depressive realism and unrealistic optimism.

According to the theory of depressive realism, people with mild and moderate depression have more realistic cognitions and make more accurate predictions about pregnancy performance than non-depressed people (Alloy, Albright, Abramson, & Dykman, 1990).

Unrealistic optimism refers to the fact that people who do not suffer from any clinical disorder tend to make more optimistic predictions about a situation than those indicated by objective evidence.

For example, when thinking about the future, people tend to underestimate the chances of suffering from a serious illness or divorce (Bortolotti & Antrobus, 2015).

But when we examine together depressive realism and unrealistic optimism (Garrett et al., 2014; Korn, Sharot, Walter, Heekeren, & Dolan, 2014) a number of questions arise about the inaccuracy of positive biases (Bortolotti & Antrobus, 2015). 

Many recent studies have attempted to answer these questions, which shows that in fact these two concepts have much more refined meanings than originally thought, and differences in the proper functioning of the individual are often made by context or personal traits.

Realism Vs. optimism – key points:

Bortolotti and Antrobus (2015) made a list of key points of the research of depressive realism and unrealistic optimism as follows:

  • recent studies in the field raise many doubts about the idea that unrealistic positive cognitions contribute to mental health;
  • depressive realism can be seen in the perception of time and in estimates of self-related circumstances but does not seem to extend to predictions of future events unrelated to the self or contexts of other people (Gordon, Tuskeviciute, & Chen, 2013);
  • realism can be unfavourable in some contexts such as (for example, triggers anxiety about some future negative events) and beneficial in other contexts (for example, a better adjustment in case of degenerative disease);
  • the phenomenon of unrealistic optimism has been confirmed, recent studies trying to lay the foundations of its neural functioning;
  • although optimism often has favourable consequences, it is possible that these benefits come with some costs that need to be quantified (for example, risk-taking, optimistic behaviour, may be accompanied by decreased anxiety and lack of necessary preventive measures).

Depressive realism

The phenomenon of depressive realism initially started from the perception of people suffering from depression (mild and moderate) on the control they have over uncontrollable processes but was extended to economic decisions, the nature of interpersonal relationships (Gordon et al ., 2013) or sports games (Jain, Bearden, & Filipowicz, 2013).

Depressive realism causes individuals to have an accurate perception of their own experiences and relationships with other people, for example, people with depression feel that those close to them fail to understand them enough and it has been shown that this is not the case. 

Due to a negative bias, but people close to those who suffer from depression are, without realizing it, less understanding than people close to those who do not suffer from depression (for example, they have difficulty identifying the emotions of the person suffering from depression).

Another feature is that depressive realism helps to be aware of the suffering of long-term illness and negatively correlates with anosognosia (lack of awareness of deficits triggered by a disease or about that disease).

Unrealistic optimism

“Unrealistic optimism” is an umbrella term that encompasses several phenomena.

It has often been defined as the phenomenon by which people consider themselves more virtuous, more talented or more compassionate than others and less prone to mistakes (Brown, 2012).

According to the illusion of self-control, people believe that they can control events that are not under their control, especially when they are personally involved in events (Hepper & Sedikides, f.a.)

According to the optimism bias, people believe that they are less likely to experience negative future experiences, such as being involved in an accident or suffering from a serious illness, than the objective probability that that event will happen (Lench & Bench, 2012).

 In the case of the illusion of superiority, people overestimate their own performance over others in a variety of areas (Wolpe, Wolpert, & Rowe, 2014).

The claim that optimistic thinking of any kind improves an individual’s well-being and health has been questioned in recent years, on the one hand, it has been shown that in conditions of uncertainty or risk, some instances of optimistic thinking help people make decisions.

Better by avoiding costly mistakes (Johnson, Blumstein, Fowler, & Haselton, 2013), and overestimating self-confidence bring social benefits even when the true ability is revealed (Bortolotti & Antrobus, 2015).

However, unrealistic optimism can have adverse health effects because people are really less worried about their future if they think they are not likely to suffer from any disease but for the same reason do not take action.

(Shepperd, Klein, Waters, & Weinstein, 2013), also unrealistic optimism is involved in predicting maladaptive behaviours such as alcohol consumption (Dillard, Midboe, & Klein, 2009) or tobacco (Dillard, McCaul, & Klein, 2006).

In conclusion, judging by the recent results of the literature, depressive realism is a phenomenon that refers especially to self-related situations, as opposed to situations that refer to others. 

And the idea of ​​classical psychology, according to which positive thinking of any kind is correlated with the well-being of individuals and the quality of health should be refined because optimism sometimes comes with some very high costs compared to the value of the consequences.

Future research directions need to focus in particular on the particularities of the context and personality of individuals before implementing therapy strategies in the case of mental disorders. 

Although optimism has a positive effect on the outcome of therapeutic intervention, caution should be exercised, especially because of the costs involved in some consequences, such as ignoring precautions to prevent disease and encouraging alcohol or smoking.

 Realism may also be more appropriate in some areas, such as health psychology, especially to help patients with chronic illnesses adjust more easily to living conditions.

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In this blog post, we talked about the differences between Realist vs Idealist vs Optimist.

We also speak about the latest research in depressive realism and unrealistic optimism. 

A realistic person sees things as they are. It does not tip the scales in seeing experience more pleasant than it is, but no less pleasant, as a pessimist would do.

An idealist is a person who aspires to an ideal, a person devoid of a sense of reality, of a practical spirit. 

An optimistic person always tends to see the full side of the glass. She will think that what is happening to her is a good thing, that she will have a pleasant experience, often even if it is obvious that it is not so.

If you have questions, comments or recommendations, please let us know in the comments section below!

FAQ about realist vs idealist vs optimist

Is it better to be a realist or an optimist?

It is neither better to be a realist nor an optimist. The better version would be a combination of the two.

Choose to balance optimism by assuming the failures or problems that have arisen over time.

What is the difference between an idealist and a realist?

The difference between an idealist and a realist is that an idealist longs for perfection, while a realist sees and accepts things as they are.

Are realists negative?

No, realists are not negative, though they tend to see the world in a pragmatic way.

A realistic person sees things as they are.

It does not tip the scales in seeing experience more pleasant than it is, but no less pleasant, as a pessimist would do. 

Can you be a realist and idealist?

Yes, you can be both a realist and an idealist.

You can still see things as they are, but long to make them better, to become a better version of yourself.

Is it good to be an idealist?

In some cases, it is good to be an idealist. An idealist strives to make things better, is interested in personal growth and is very committed to help others to become their best version. 


Alloy, L. B., Albright, J. S., Abramson, L. Y., & Dykman, B. M. (1990). Depressive Realism and Non Depressive Optimistic Illusions: The Role of the Self. În R. E. Ingram (Ed.), Contemporary Psychological Approaches to Depression (pp. 71-86). Boston, MA: Springer US. 

Bortolotti, L., & Antrobus, M. (2015). Costs and benefits of realism and optimism: Current Opinion in Psychiatry

Brown, J. D. (2012). Understanding the Better Than Average Effect: Motives (Still) Matter. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 38(2), 209-219. 

Garrett, N., Sharot, T., Faulkner, P., Korn, C. W., Roiser, J. P., & Dolan, R. J. (2014). Losing the rose-tinted glasses: neural substrates of unbiased belief updating in depression. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 8. 

Gordon, A. M., Tuskeviciute, R., & Chen, S. (2013). A multimethod investigation of depressive symptoms, perceived understanding, and relationship quality: Depressed and misunderstood? Personal Relationships, 20(4), 635-654. 

Johnson, D. D. P., Blumstein, D. T., Fowler, J. H., & Haselton, M. G. (2013). The evolution of error: error management, cognitive constraints, and adaptive decision-making biases. Trends in Ecology & Evolution, 28(8), 474-481. 

Korn, C. W., Sharot, T., Walter, H., Heekeren, H. R., & Dolan, R. J. (2014). Depression is related to an absence of optimistically biased belief updating about future life events. Psychological Medicine, 44(03), 579-592.

Lench, H. C., & Bench, S. W. (2012). Automatic optimism: Why people assume their futures will be bright. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 6(4), 347-360. 

Wolpe, N., Wolpert, D. M., & Rowe, J. B. (2014). Seeing what you want to see: priors for one’s own actions represent exaggerated expectations of success. Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience, 8.

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Daniela Paez is a Clinical Psychologist with an MSc. In Clinical Neuropsychology from Bangor University. She has vast experience in working with children with disabilities, adolescents and their families, in extreme conditions of poverty and vulnerability. Additionally, she owns a private practice where she provides neuropsychological evaluation for children and adults, and treatment for mood disorders, anxiety, couple therapy, among other conditions.