The Case for Being an Optimist


Optimism and positive thinking are gaining a bad rap among people who may describe themselves as realists, though they are in fact pessimists. And it’s no wonder, really. You’re in a profession which has a direct connection to the vast stupidity and greed and vice of human beings. After all, if we all treated one another with decency and respect, would we need most of the laws we have? Probably not. But that’s not my point. My point is that your “realism” may be damaging more than just your faith in the goodness of people.

1.) Optimists live longer and are generally healthier. The wellness website Prevention offers this bit of evidence that shows the health benefits of being an optimist. The Dutch conducted a nine-year study of cardiovascular health in 900 men and women. They found that pessimists with heart disease die sooner than optimists with heart disease. Not only that, but pessimists die sooner from just about everything than optimists. And to round out the trifecta of health-related blows, pessimists also have higher odds of developing dementia than optimists. So not only are you making yourself miserable, you’re making yourself miserable and crazy by insisting on a dour outlook in life.

2.) Optimists make more money. Prevention also says that a person’s level of optimism corresponds directly with their annual income. First-year law students were asked to rate their optimism on a one to five scale. Ten years later, they found that each one-point increase was measured by $33,000 more income per year.

And why is this so? In general, optimists persist longer at a task than pessimists do. A pessimist will blame himself and give up when faced with failure. An optimist will blame outside circumstances and keep trying, assuming that he will achieve the desired outcome.

3.) Optimists are more productive. Pessimists are too easily trapped in the rut of rumination. No, not meditation or thinking through a problem, but dwelling on negative outcomes. A blunder or misstep goes from a small mistake to a bad afternoon to a bad day to a bad week to ohmigosh-I’m-a-bad-person-because-I’m-such-a-klutz-and-I’m-always-going-to-be-a-failure-so-why-should-I-try in about 0.7 seconds. Small mistakes that optimists shake off because they’re inconsequential become insurmountable repercussions for the pessimist. And if they’re insurmountable, why bother trying? Why try something new which will improve your life or business, make you more productive when you can see inevitable failure looming ahead?

4.) Optimists have healthier habits. We all know that smoking and excessive drinking lead to health problems. Optimists don’t generally depend on these crutches for emotional support. Which brings us back to my first point that optimists are healthier than pessimists. But the optimist’s sense of well-being is also served by good habits and not just a lack of bad habits. Regular exercise raises endorphins, catching a little sun raises Vitamin D which is noticeably lower in people who are depressed, listening to uplifting music increases happiness, and dreaming big chases away anxiety and self-doubt.

So, do yourself and your business a favor and put away some of your negativity. Here are a few quick tips to help you do this. Meditation helps de-stress and teaches you how to cope with problems without depending on emotional crutches. Engage in doing something rather than ruminating on negative outcomes. Eat more fish. It will increase your level of serotonin, which will make you feel better. Make friends with an optimist. Laugh more. You’ll find that the increase in well-being spreads to all aspects of your life. After all, why end up miserable and crazy when you can be healthier, happier, and richer?

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