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Most pessimists like to fancy themselves “realistic.” They think optimists are deluding themselves, glossing over the tough parts of life and tricking themselves into seeing things as much rosier than they really are.
To put it in a way those pessimists can relate to: this is a load of crap.
Eeyore is presented with a perfectly lovely reality plenty of times—his friends build him a new house to shelter him from a rainstorm, for example—but he barely notices because he’s too busy muttering about how he hopes it will at least hold up until the next hurricane comes.
Real optimism isn’t about forcing yourself to fake cheerfulness or being the annoying Pollyanna everyone can’t stand. It’s about choosing to hope for the best, even while being prepared for the worst. It’s about seeing the potential in life, acknowledging the challenges and deliberately allowing yourself to believe things can turn out right (and that you have the power to make that happen). And it’s why an optimist will thoroughly kick a pessimist’s tail, every time.
Don’t believe me? Take a look at the ways optimists stack up against their glass-half-empty brethren:
Optimists are more in control. With a “can-do” spirit and the ability to see the bright side of things, optimists feel (and are) more in control of their lives than those who see themselves as victims of an unfair world that always lets them down.
Pessimists are more likely to suffer from low self-esteem, low self-confidence and depression—and even when things do go right for them, they’re likely to brush it off as a fluke and discredit any role they had in making it happen.
Optimists are more resilient. If you believe the world is against you and anything that can go wrong will, chances are you’ll have trouble bouncing back from a disappointment or setback because you just don’t see the point.
Optimists are better able to roll with the punches because they believe that, ultimately, things will work out for them. They’re more likely to see setbacks as temporary and to not beat themselves up over mistakes.
Optimists are better at facing challenges. When confronted with a tricky dilemma or an overwhelming problem, optimists are more likely to try to find ways to break it down into doable steps and see what they can do with it.
Pessimists, on the other hand, tend to shut down when faced with a challenge, seeing it as even worse than it really is and deciding ahead of time that any effort they make will probably fail.
Optimists are more open to opportunities. True optimists are perfectly “realistic” about the pitfalls and risks they face; they just choose to not let them get in their way. They’re more willing to embrace a new opportunity, and to embrace it with the kind of attitude that will enable them to make the most of it.
Optimists get more opportunities. All other factors being equal, who is a manager more likely to eye for that new position that just opened up: Employee A, who accepts every project with a smile, works hard at it and gets along with his coworkers; or Employee B, who moans every time the copier breaks, sighs heavily whenever he’s handed an assignment and has that desk everyone skirts because they don’t want to be caught up in its doom and gloom atmosphere?
Regardless of whether Employee B is perfectly capable at his job, Employee A is much more likely to get the promotion because you can trust that he’ll give the work his all, won’t fall apart if something goes wrong and (just as important in an office environment) won’t bring everyone else around him down.
Optimists are healthier. Numerous scientific studies have shown optimists live longer and enjoy better health than pessimists. This could be for any number of reasons: because optimists tend to have lower stress levels and lower blood pressure, because they have stronger support systems, even because they’re more likely to take proactive care of themselves.
Pessimists, who are more likely to suffer the physical effects of stress, anger and worry, set themselves up for a bad mood because the worse you feel physically, the harder it is to look on the bright side.
Optimism is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Attitude really can mean everything. For better or for worse, the way we approach the world influences the way the world appears to us. And once we’re set in either a positive or a negative worldview, the way the world reacts to us is influenced, too.
It’s a little thing called “confirmation bias”: whatever lens you chose to see things through, it will show the evidence that supports your perspective. If you go into a day confident it’s going to suck, you’ll be more likely to see only the bad things that happen, thus making yourself more miserable and causing people to react to you differently than they would if you were in a good mood. The cycle of feedback seems to justify your perspective, so you settle even deeper into the bias you’d already decided on having.
The Good News
Fortunately, while we’re all wired to some degree towards certain personality traits, pessimism can be un-learned, just like you can learn to quit smoking. It’s all about reconditioning your brain to respond to circumstances in a more positive manner.
How have you tried to teach yourself to respond positively? Do you find it challenging to be optimistic?
Kelly Gurnett is Assistant Editor of Brazen life and runs the blog Cordelia Calls It Quits, where she documents her attempts to rid her life of the things that don’t matter and focus more on the things that do. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook and hire her services as a blogger extraordinaire here.