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The Benefits of Optimism

Staying positive can improve stress management, productivity, and your health

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Updated August 13, 2014

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Do you know someone who seems to always have a smile and a positive thought? Or are you yourself one of those people who is full of optimism? Hardships are seen as ‘learning experiences’ by optimists, and even the most miserable day always holds the promise for them that ‘tomorrow will probably be better.'

If you always see the brighter side of things, you may feel that you experience more positive events in your life than others, find yourself less stressed, and even enjoy greater health benefits.

This is not your imagination.

Researchers like Martin Seligman have been studying optimists and pessimists for years, and they have found that an optimistic world view carries certain advantages.

 

The Benefits of Optimism

Superior Health
In a study of 99 Harvard University students, those who were optimists at age 25 were significantly healthier at ages 45 and 60 than those who were pessimists. Other studies have linked a pessimistic explanatory style with higher rates of infectious disease, poor health, and earlier mortality.

Greater Achievement
Seligman analyzed the explanatory styles of sports teams and found that the more optimistic teams created more positive synergy and performed better than the pessimistic ones. Another study showed that pessimistic swimmers who were led to believe they’d done worse than they had were prone to future poor performance. Optimistic swimmers didn’t have this vulnerability.

Research like this has led some companies to go out of their way to hire optimists -- a practice that seems to be paying off.

Persistence
Optimists don’t give up as easily as pessimists, and they are more likely to achieve success because of it. Some optimistic businessmen, like Donald Trump, have been bankrupt (even multiple times), but have been able to persist and turn their failures into millions.

Emotional Health
In a study of clinically depressed patients, it was discovered that 12 weeks of cognitive therapy (which involves reframing a person's thought processes) worked better than drugs, as changes were more long-lasting than a temporary fix. Patients who had this training in optimism had the ability to more effectively handle future setbacks.

Increased Longevity
In a retrospective study of 34 healthy Hall of Fame baseball players who played between 1900 and 1950, optimists lived significantly longer. Other studies have shown that optimistic breast cancer patients had better health outcomes than pessimistic and hopeless patients.

Less Stress
Optimists also tend to experience less stress than pessimists or realists. Because they believe in themselves and their abilities, they expect good things to happen. They see negative events as minor setbacks to be easily overcome, and view positive events as evidence of further good things to come. Believing in themselves, they also take more risks and create more positive events in their lives.

Additionally, research shows that optimists are more proactive with stress management, favoring approaches that reduce or eliminate stressors and their emotional consequences. Optimists work harder at stress management, so they're less stressed.

Go to Page 2 to learn about ‘explanatory style’ and what differentiates optimism from pessimism.

 

 

Sources:
Peterson, Christopher; Seligman, Martin E.; Vaillant, George E.; Pessimistic explanatory style is a risk factor for physical illness: A thirty-five-year longitudinal study. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol 55(1), Jul, 1988. pp. 23-27.
Peterson, C. (2000). The future of optimism. American Psychologist, 55, 44–55.
Solberg Nes, L. S., & Segerstrom, S. C. (2006). Dispositional optimism and coping: A meta-analytic review. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 10, 235–251.

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