The Psychological Benefits of Optimism

“The nice part about being a pessimist is that you are constantly being either proven right or pleasantly surprised.”
George F. Will, The Leveling Wind

“A pessimist is one who makes difficulties of his opportunities and an optimist is one who makes opportunities of his difficulties.”
Harry Truman

“It doesn’t hurt to be optimistic. You can always cry later.”
Lucimar Santos de Lima

Today psychology professor Ian Newby-Clark has decided to join us to talk about the benefits of optimism. You can read his blog on changing habits at http://my-bad-habits.blogspot.com.

There are certainly a lot of opinions about optimism and pessimism. Some people, like George Will, think that pessimism is the way to go. Yet, others like Truman and Santos de Lima, favor an optimistic outlook on life. People on both sides of the debate make good points. But who’s right? Should you see the glass as half-full or half-empty? What does the science say?

The Benefits of Optimism

There are clear benefits to having an optimistic outlook on life. There are benefits to your everyday mood, to your personal health, and to your ability to cope with life’s occasional setbacks.

1. Optimists are Happier

Research shows it over and over again—optimists are happy people. They report more positive moods than do pessimists. Although this finding may seem ‘obvious’ at first blush, it is not. In fact, optimists could be rather miserable because, unlike pessimists, they must experience disappointment on a regular basis—just ask George Will. Whatever disappointment optimists experience must be temporary.

2. Optimists are Healthier

Optimists do not get sick as often as do pessimists and, when optimists do get sick, they get better quicker. We don’t know exactly why that is, but the effect of stress on our immune systems is most likely involved. Optimists experience less stress, which means a stronger immune system.

3. Optimists are Better at Coping

Perhaps optimists don’t cope well with adversity. If they’re expecting the best, then they might not be well-prepared for the worst. But here’s the thing, pessimists are the ones who have trouble coping. It’s like optimistic thinking acts like a suit of armor, protecting you from life’s slings and arrows. Also, optimists are better consumers of health information—this is probably one of the reasons they don’t get sick as much as pessimists.

The scientific jury is in. There are proven benefits to optimism. If you are optimistic, you’ll have a better mood, be healthier and cope better with life’s little setbacks. Of course, science is complicated and the science of studying humans is even more complicated. So, I could never say that optimism is absolutely the best thing for all people all of the time. There are definitely benefits to being optimistic, though. So, go on, be optimistic. See the glass as half-full and be happy.

Ian Newby-Clark is a psychology professor who studies habits and habit change. Visit his blog at: http://my-bad-habits.blogspot.com to read his informative and witty posts. Among other topics, Ian has blogged about strength of will and guilty pleasures. Also, Nyssa-the-habit-changer regularly writes in with updates on her progress.


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