Surveys and studies can shed a lot of light on news that's important to our lives. I've reported on many of them, such as the Employee Benefit Research Institute's findings that we may not retire when we think we will. There's the annual Retirement Confidence Survey, showing us why we stand a good chance of ending up with a gruesome retirement. And there's the report from Fidelity that can help us see how we're doing compared to others in our retirement planning.

Now there's another study out from Fidelity, with even more data on retirement and investing. Looking over the report, which happened to focus on pessimists and optimists, I learned that (drumroll, please):

  • Pessimistic investors are less likely to expect a comfortable retirement than optimistic investors, by a 61% to 83% count
  • Pessimists typically take on less investing risk. That's been especially true during the current uncertainties in the financial markets.

There's more. Among married couples, 61% of pessimistic spouses don't have much confidence in their ability to take over control of the household finances, versus just 39% of optimists.

The scoop
Yes, I know, the study is telling us that pessimists are kind of … pessimistic. But there's more to the study than just disposition. For instance, nearly twice as many optimists as pessimists have a detailed plan for how they'll generate retirement income. That lack of planning certainly suggests that those pessimists have good reason to expect the worst.

Given those results, we should try to make sure we're not in the pessimist camp. More often than optimists, pessimists seem to invest mainly to preserve the value of their investments -- in other words, rather conservatively. That's not a great way for most of us to build a nest egg for tomorrow, especially if you still have awhile to go before you plan to retire.

It will take a long time to build the wealth you need for retirement if you focus only on preserving your wealth rather than growing it. You'll be stuck with low returns that may not even keep up with inflation, let alone help you increase your purchasing power after you retire. If you expect to need $50,000 to cover your annual expenses, for instance, you need to build a nest egg of $1 million or more. You probably can't get there sticking with ultrasafe investments.

What to do
If you're starting to break out in a sweat as you imagine putting lots of your dollars into stocks you don't know well -- ones that might suddenly implode -- relax and take a deep breath. You can aim for solid returns with stocks that won't strike you as all that risky. Check out the following companies with top ratings from our Motley Fool CAPS investor community:


Return on Equity

Price-to-Earnings Ratio

10-Year Average Return





Canadian National Railway (NYSE:CNI)




Abbott Labs (NYSE:ABT)




Transocean (NYSE:RIG)




Petroleo Brasileiro (NYSE:PBR)




Schlumberger (NYSE:SLB)




ExxonMobil (NYSE:XOM)




S&P 500



Data: Motley Fool CAPS; Yahoo! Finance. *Over the past nine years.

Their relatively low P/E ratios suggest that they aren't wildly overpriced, and thus these stocks offer some margin of safety. You can find plenty of compelling familiar names these days, too -- ones that offer generous dividends.

So don't be such a pessimist! Over long periods, the stock market tends to make people wealthier. Feel free to feel optimistic that now, during a recession, is often the best time to invest.