5 Things Everyone Should Know About OptimistsNone By Derrick Carpenter
The last time you faced a challenging situation, were you more focused on what made the experience bad or on what you could do to make it better? We all have habitual ways of responding that fall along the spectrum of optimism and pessimism. Optimists consistently recognize how much control they have in a situation and expect a good outcome when they take steps to act on it.
It’s not surprising that optimistic thinkers tend to be happier than pessimistic thinkers. But there are other benefits to being optimist, some of which seem hard to believe. Here are five that may surprise you:
You'll Have a Healthier and Longer Life
Optimism is robustly linked to overall health and longevity. People who think optimistically have lower rates of heart disease and hypertension and lower risk for mortality in general. Optimists live, on average, about 8 to 10 years longer than pessimists. Yes, that’s right—nearly a full decade! And that’s usually an extra decade of good health. These health benefits are likely a result of optimists taking better care of themselves and exhibiting greater self-control. When given a poor but treatable health prognosis, pessimists more often hear the news as unchangeable and think of a heart attack or treatable cancer as an impending death sentence. Optimists, on the other hand, can recognize the gravity of their situation but still take the steps needed to regain their health.
You'll Have Higher Quality Relationships
According to researchers at Stanford University, optimists report having romantic relationships that they enjoy more and that last longer than those of pessimists. And, perhaps surprisingly, these findings still show up when only one partner is an optimist. Psychologists believe that optimism leads to a greater perception of support from one’s partner, which helps couples fight more fairly. When asked about a recent conflict in the relationship, both optimistic thinkers and their partners were more likely to say that the other was invested in improving the relationship better, which leads to better conflict resolution. In addition, the more we idealize our partners—telling ourselves they are fantastic in ways that might not be fully in touch with reality—the happier we tend to be in our relationships.
You'll Perform Better on the Job
Selling life insurance can be a tough job. A study of salespeople at Metropolitan Life showed that the most optimistic of thinkers outsold their pessimistic peers by 88%. This performance gap may result from optimists being seen as more charismatic, being more likely to persist until towards their goals, and finding it easier to shake off a failed attempt so that it doesn’t affect them in their next try. Optimists have an easier time in the job search, finding comparable jobs to pessimists with less effort. When they are employed, optimists are more likely to be promoted and optimistic managers may be more effective at encouraging the productivity of their teams and helping them to achieve their goals.
You'll Have a Stronger Immune System
Optimists get sick less frequently and when they do, they get improve more quickly. Optimistic thinkers recover from major surgeries faster, get hurt less often, report lower pain in chronic conditions, and have fewer indicators of inflammation. Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University exposed both optimists and pessimists to influenza and human rhinovirus—the cause of the common cold. The subjects who were more optimistic were less likely to become sick in the first place, and when they did acquire the disease, they were more likely to describe their symptoms as manageable.
You'll Be More Fired Up to Win
In a study of elite collegiate swim teams, coaches told athletes to swim their best event. When they finished, the coach provided false feedback about their performance, adding a couple seconds to their times. This difference was small enough to be believable but large enough to disappoint the swimmers. They took half an hour to rest—and presumably ruminate over the failure they just experienced—and then try the event again. On the second attempt, pessimistic thinkers swam on average 1.6% slower than their first attempt, essentially performing at the level of the false feedback they’d been given the first time. The optimistic thinkers, on the other hand, swam 0.5% faster than their actual first performance, some even setting personal bests. In the competitive world of swimming, the difference between the optimists and pessimists was the difference between taking first place and coming in last. Optimists, as it turns out, might actually be able to use failure as fuel to perform even better in the future.
Now here's the good news. It doesn't matter if you're not a glass-half-full type. Optimism is a skill that anyone can improve, no matter where they are now. Check out our free 4-week track that will help you fight negativity and build more optimism.
Derrick Carpenter, MAPP, coaches individuals on living engaged and inspired lives, runs experiential corporate leadership programs, and trains US Army personnel on resilience. He's researched what makes people great in psychology labs at Harvard, Yale, and UPenn, where he received his Master of Applied Positive Psychology.
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