Why Your Glass Should Be Half Full: The Benefits of Optimism

Is your glass ‘half empty’ or ‘half full’? In other words, are you more optimistic or more pessimistic? Do you see the future as hopeful or bleak? Let’s explore these and other related questions about optimism and pessimism. I hope (notice the optimistic tone there?) I can convince you of the many benefits from becoming more optimistic. And yes, you can become more optimistic and we’ll talk about how to do just that.

What is optimism (and pessimism)?

Optimism is generally defined as a positive attitude or outlook on life and an expectation that things will generally turn out well in the future. It was certainly an optimist who said that “every cloud has a silver lining.” Pessimism is just the opposite: a tendency to think more negatively and to assume things won’t likely end up favorably. A pessimist probably coined the phrase “Hope for the best, but prepare for the worst.”

How do optimists and pessimists think differently?

The thinking styles of these two groups are indeed very different. Psychologist Martin Seligman explains that optimists see bad events as external (factors outside their control), temporary (short duration) and specific (isolated circumstances). Pessimists view negative events as personal (their own fault), permanent (longer lasting), and pervasive (happening in many situations).

How can I find out how optimistic I am?

For a quick online test of your overall level of optimism, check out the brief Life Orientation Test. In addition, Dr. Seligman’s “Authentic Happiness” website has several optimism questionnaires.

What are some benefits of an optimistic outlook?

The research literature on optimism is extensive. (A Google search of “optimism research” yields over 49 million hits!) Here are a few takeaways from the research to give you some idea of the many benefits of being an optimist:

  • Physical health – Optimistic outlooks are associated with longer longevity, survival from disease, pain tolerance, healthier lifestyle behaviors and overall better health outcomes.
  • Mental health – Optimists handle stress better, are less depressed, use more positive coping skills and don’t give up as easily when faced with adversity.
  • Academic performance – Optimistic college students get higher grades, set more specific goals, and are more likely to see academic counseling resources
  • Workplace success – Optimistic salespeople make more money and are less likely to quit when sales are slow.
  • Sports performance – Optimistic individual and team athletes outperform pessimistic rivals of similar skill level
  • Marital satisfaction – Couples with five times as many positive interactions than negative ones stay married longer than couples with a lower ratio of positive to negative behaviors.
  • Parenting – You can encourage your kids to become budding optimists by encouraging them to have a positive attitude, by praising their effort and not their ability, and by being a positive role model through your own optimistic beliefs and behaviors.

How can I learn to be more optimistic?

While your typical level of optimism may be influenced by both genetic and environmental influences, you can definitely become more optimistic through intentional practice of certain skills and behaviors. Try these tips to boost your overall optimism:

  • Notice negative self-talk and think of something positive to say in the moment.
  • Take a negative event and look for opportunities for growth or learning that could come from it.
  • Recognize what’s within your control and don’t dwell on things you can’t change.
  • Set and pursue realistic goals.
  • Be persistent; don’t give up easily when facing a setback.
  • Keep a diary or gratitude journal of the good things in your life and make regular entries, at least weekly.

Also, consider these books on optimism to learn more: Learn to Be an Optimist by Lucy MacDonald and Learned Optimism by Martin Seligman.

I hope I’ve made the case for you to consider that becoming more optimistic can have several significant positive benefits for your health, happiness and overall life satisfaction.

Here’s a question: What can you try to bring a more optimistic outlook to your life? Please leave a comment. Also, please subscribe to my blog and feel free to follow me on Twitter, “like” my Facebook page, or connect on LinkedIn. Finally, if you enjoyed this article, please share it with a friend. Thanks!


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