In the last blogpost, I covered some of the research that shows optimism is so good for you!
In this post I’ll cover the benefits in more detail, and discuss ‘explanatory style’ (or how we explain that happens in our life), and what we can do to make it work better for us.
The Benefits of Optimism
Researchers have found that optimistic people experience:-
In a study of 99 Harvard University students, optimists at age 25 were significantly healthier at ages 45 and 60 than those who were pessimists (1).
Optimism has been shown to also lower type 2 diabetes risk in postmenopausal women studied for 14 years. The risk was 12 percent lower in optimistic women, whereas women with the most hostile personalities had a 17 percent higher risk of the disease (2).
Other studies have linked a pessimistic explanatory style with higher rates of infectious disease, poor health, and earlier mortality (1).
In a retrospective study of 34 healthy baseball players, optimists lived significantly longer (1).
Other studies have shown that optimistic breast cancer patients had better health outcomes than pessimistic and hopeless patients. (3)
Seligman (4) analyzed sports teams and found that the more optimistic teams created more positive synergy and performed better than the pessimistic ones. As an example, a group of swimmers was told a false duration for their swim—that they took several seconds longer than they actually did to complete their exercise. The optimists used this negative feedback to fuel an even faster time on their next swim; the pessimists performed more poorly than before. (1)
Optimists don’t give up as easily as pessimists, and they are more likely to achieve success because of it. Optimists tend to examine the reasons why they failed, and takes steps to ensure that they succeed the next time. (1)
In a study of clinically depressed patients, it was discovered that 12 weeks of cognitive therapy (which involves reframing a person’s thought processes) worked better than drugs, as changes were more long-lasting than a temporary fix. Patients who had this training in optimism had the ability to more effectively handle future setbacks. (1)
Optimists also tend to experience less stress than pessimists. They expect positive outcomes, see negative outcomes as setbacks to be easily overcome, and view positive outcomes as evidence of further good things to come. Believing in themselves, they also take more risks and create more positive events in their lives. A survey of first year college students in Australia showed that those who were more optimistic about going to university and settling in experienced less stress, anxiety, and uncertainty and had a more successful first year overall.
Research shows that optimists manage stress better, reducing or eliminating stressful factors, and emotional consequences. Optimists work harder at stress management, so they’re less stressed. (1)
Explanatory Style Explained
“Explanatory style” or “attributional style” refers to how people explain the events that happen to them. There are three ways of categorising how people do this (1):
- Stable vs. Unstable: Do you feel that time may change things, or do you expect things to stay the same?
- Global vs. Local: If an event happens, do you feel it indicates how your life is, or is it seen as an isolated incident?
- Internal vs. External: Do you feel anything that happens to you is caused by your actions, or do you feel that they are caused by an outside force?
Optimist Explanatory Style
Optimists believe positive events happened because of their actions (internal). They also see positive events as likely to continue into the future (stable) and throughout their lives (global). Conversely, they see negative events as not being their fault (external). They also see them as being flukes that will not influence other areas of their lives (local) or future events (unstable).
Pessimist Explanatory Style
Pessimists think in the opposite way. They believe that negative events are caused by their actions (internal). They believe that one mistake means more will happen in the future (stable), and that they will more likely occur in other areas of their life (global), because they (the pessimist) are the cause. They see positive events as flukes (local) that are caused by things outside their control (external) and probably won’t happen again in the future (unstable).
For example, if an optimist gets a promotion, she will likely believe it’s because she’s good at her job and will receive more benefits and promotion in the future. If she’s passed over for the promotion, it’s likely because she was having an off-month because of extenuating circumstances, but will do better in the future (1).
A pessimist would see a promotion as a lucky event that probably won’t happen again, and may even worry that she’ll now be under more scrutiny. Being passed over for promotion would probably be explained as not being skilled enough. She’d, therefore, expect to be passed over again (1).
What This Means
It’s great if you are already an optimist. You get multiple benefits from this way of thinking.
But what if you are not optimistic, or a mixture of both optimistic and pessimistic depending on what is happening in your life?
Luckily, these patterns of thinking can be learned using cognitive restructuring (6), which helps you consciously challenge negative, self-limiting beliefs and replace it with more optimistic thought patterns.
Text: Copyright Lisa Billingham