Optimism is about looking on the bright side of life, but it’s not about dismissing reality. When we opt to be optimistic in a given situation, we’re bringing a certain brightness to that situation. The perspective, and disposition, that we apply to life has a tremendous impact not only on how life feels, but on how life plays out.
“For myself I am an optimist—it does not seem to be much use being anything else….” – Winston Churchill (9 November 1954, Lord Mayor’s Banquet, Guildhall, London; The Unwritten Alliance, page 195.)
To be optimistic means, in my own words, to hold a vision of peace, compassion, and hope—for the future in general, or in reference to a particular outcome. Optimism is a perspective one holds, a disposition one carries with them, and a preference for positivity.
Like anything that has the potential to alter life as we live it, optimism is a powerful way of being in the world.
Being optimistic doesn’t mean that we’re out of touch with reality; it means that we see a situation for what it is first, and then proceed to deliver our own positive influence to it, in accordance with what the situation calls for. Whatever is required of us right here and now isn’t met with resistance, but with our acceptance and hope for what it can be.
If I choose to be optimistic, I’m definitely not expecting good things to happen by themselves, without my energy and assistance. The decision to contribute an optimistic attitude to anything is my choice to take responsibility for how I see what I see, and to use that vision to make a positive impact on my immediate surroundings.
The good things I expect to happen have a better chance of happening when I support that vision with my head, heart, and hands.
I am fully aware that the sun is not shining in every dark corner of the world, and I’m also confident that there’s a growing force for good that can light the way to a better experience. The way isn’t somewhere else in the future, though; if we want to spread peace and positivity in the world around us, we need start right here, right now.
5 Brilliant Reasons to Be Optimistic
1. Optimism builds strong relationships.
In general, optimism is a socially valued trait, which tends to make optimistic people well-liked by others.
More specifically, an inclination toward optimism delivers the following benefits:
- The level of perceived support (the belief that others will be available to offer support if needed) is higher among optimists.
- Optimists are less likely to withdraw from conflict, probably because they expect that a successful resolution can be found.
- Optimists are are more cooperative and constructive when a situation requires problem-solving.
- Being more charismatic, optimists are perceived by others as more likely to succeed. In fact, they experience significantly better job search outcomes than pessimists with similar skills; they spend less effort searching and find jobs more quickly, and are more likely to be promoted.
- As noted in Martin Seligman’s book Authentic Happiness, optimism supports long, healthy marriages. Choose to be optimistic, and you might enjoy longer, more satisfying relationships in general.
2. Optimistic people tend to be healthier.
Optimism is a significant predictor in positive physical health outcomes, and supports positive mental health outcomes. A comprehensive study links optimism to a better outcome on eight measures of physical and mental function and health.
A positive outlook can help people cope with disease and recover from cardiac surgery, and protects against high blood pressure and developing coronary artery disease.
In teenagers, optimism and hope bolster resistance to depression.
I’m not sure if good health contributes to optimism, though, and not the other way around. As this article points out, “As things stand, it’s still unclear whether adopting a more positive outlook on life can reduce your likelihood of falling ill or dying. But it certainly won’t hurt – and it might put a smile on your face. Who could argue with that?”
3. Optimism supports goal achievement.
Optimists are more persistent and more successful in pursuing their goals, probably because they tend to have more favorable expectancies than do pessimists. In other words, optimists believe they can achieve their goals, and are therefore more likely to pursue these goals, and thus attain better outcomes.
Optimists connect good events to permanent causes (such as their traits and abilities) and they try harder the next time they succeed. The tendency to give up falls short of the motivation to move forward, because they believe in what’s possible for them.If there's anything in the world you want to achieve, first believe in your ability to achieve it. Click To Tweet
When progress toward a goal is disrupted, an optimist experiences less (pervasive) negative emotions. They’re more likely to actively engage coping strategies such as acceptance, humor, and positive reframing in order to lessen the problem’s impact.
The pessimist, on the other hand, assumes blame for bad news, believes their trouble will last forever, and lets the bad event affect everything in their life. Optimists interpret setbacks as temporary, controllable, and specific to one situation.
Research shows that optimism is valued in business executives, leaders, and entrepreneurs when the need arises to motivate others or seal a deal. Whether or not it leads to better performance on the job, however, requires additional research.
4. Optimism bolsters happiness and longevity.
What determines a long or short life? Happiness, it seems. Optimism, to be sure.
In Dr. Martin Seligman’s book Authentic Happiness, he points to the most remarkable study of happiness and longevity ever conducted. In 1932, 180 nuns were studied to see how long they lived and how healthy they were.
To quote the pages of this book:
The study discovered that 90 percent of the most cheerful quarter was alive at age eighty-five versus only 34 percent of the least cheerful quarter. 54 percent of the most cheerful quarter was alive at age ninety-four versus 11 percent of the least cheerful quarter.
The trait of optimism helps explain how a single snapshot of the momentary happiness of nuns could predict how long they will live.
An optimistic nun is a happy nun, and a happy nun is a long-lived nun. Lucky for all of us (nun or not), optimism is a positive trait that can be strengthened. We can exercise this abiding disposition, thus making momentary feelings of happiness more likely, and an abiding state of joy more attainable.
5. Optimistic thinking denotes greater life meaning.
If you’ve ever had the pleasure of reading Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl, you understand the life-giving importance of discovering meaning in your days.
Those with higher levels of positive thinking associate stressful events with greater meaning of life, while people with lower levels of positive thinking associate stressful events with lower meaning of life. Actually, optimists tend to find meaning in both positive and negative aspects of well-being.We're not required to change the whole world; we're only asked, time and again, to change our own. Click To Tweet
To be optimistic might mean that we believe in the higher purpose of all experiences (joyful and sorrowful), but, for me, optimism is very much about giving meaning to those experiences that test the human spirit.
- How do you stay optimistic when it’s easier to cling to negativity?
- What practices or reminders help you trust that everything is okay (in this moment) and that everything will be okay in the end?
- Can you think of one time when your disposition/perspective altered the way an experience played out for you?
Please share your thoughts on optimism, lessons in happy living, personal practices that help you look on the bright side, and any helpful or hopeful stories with me in the comments.
Share this post with someone who believes in possibility even when it’s not immediately obvious.
Perhaps there’s a higher purpose in all experiences, and maybe the purpose is to get us moving in a new direction, with renewed energy and a more fitting perspective, so that we can plant meaning in each step.
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