How Does Optimism Help Make You a Happy Person?

Beyond the simple reality that optimists are happier people (and happiness is what you’re striving for), optimism has other benefits as well. So, if you want to achieve greater happiness, try being optimistic for a day!

  • Optimists enjoy a greater degree of academic success than pessimists do. Because optimistic students think it’s possible for them to make a good grade, they study hardier and they study smarter. They manage the setting in which they study and they seek help from others when they need it. (Optimism, it turns out, is almost as predictive of how well students do in college as the SAT.)

  • Optimists are less likely to become compulsive gamblers than pessimists are. Optimists are realists and they understand that, when it comes to wagering bets, the odds always favor the house. Pessimistic gamblers believe in “long shots” more than their own ability to achieve success the “old-fashioned way” through hard work and individual initiative. When optimists lose, they quit gambling. Pessimists dwell on their losses and continue gambling.

  • Optimists tend to set more specific goals than pessimists do. The more specific and concrete your goals are, the more likely you’ll be to achieve success. The optimistic student has a goal of making a B+ average this semester; the pessimistic student simply wants to “do well” in school.

  • Optimists are more self-confident than pessimists are. They believe in themselves more than fate. (They also bet on themselves more than they bet on the horses!)

  • Optimists are more likely to be problem-solvers than pessimists are. When pessimistic students get a D on a test, they tend to think things like: “I knew I shouldn’t have taken this course. I’m no good at psychology.” The optimistic student who gets a D says to herself, “I can do better. I just didn’t study enough for this test. I’ll do better next time.” And she will!

  • Optimists persist and persevere. They’re not quitters!

  • Optimists are more active in their pursuit of happiness than pessimists are. Are you waiting for happiness to find you? If so, you’re a pessimist. If you know that happiness is out there, somewhere in your future, and you’re willing to hunt for it, you’re an optimist. It’s as simple as that.

  • Optimists welcome second chances after they fail more than pessimists do. Optimistic golfers always take a mulligan (a redo swing without penalty). Why? Because they expect to achieve a better result the second time around.

  • Optimists are more socially outgoing than pessimists are. Socially outgoing folks believe that the time they spend with other human beings makes them better in some way — smarter, more interesting, more attractive. Unfortunately, pessimists see little, if any, benefit from venturing out into the social world.

  • Optimists are not as lonely as pessimists are. Because pessimists don’t see as much benefit from socializing with others, they have far fewer social and emotional connections in their lives, which is what loneliness is all about.

  • Optimists utilize social support more effectively than pessimists do. They aren’t afraid to reach out in times of need.

  • Optimists are less likely to blame others for their misfortune than pessimists are. When you blame someone else for your troubles, what you’re really saying is, “You’re the cause of my problem and, therefore, you have to be the solution as well.” Optimists have just as many troubles as pessimists throughout life — they just accept more responsibility for dealing with their misfortune.

  • Optimists engage in safer sex than pessimists do. Studies show that gay men who have an optimistic outlook tend to practice safer sex — fewer partners, condom use — than gay men who are pessimistic about their chances of contracting and transmitting HIV.

  • Optimists cope with stress better than pessimists do. Pessimists worry, optimists act. A patient with coronary heart disease who is pessimistic “hopes and prays” that he doesn’t have another heart attack anytime soon. The optimistic heart patient leaves little to chance — instead, he exercises regularly, practices his meditation exercises, adheres to a low-cholesterol diet, and makes sure he always gets a good night’s sleep.

  • Optimists are more likely to engage in preventive healthcare than pessimists are. Pessimists are always waiting to see how their health turns out, whereas optimists take a more hands-on approach to preventing illness.

  • Optimists are less likely to become disabled from chronic pain than pessimists are. If all a patient can see is disability in her future, she behaves as a disabled person in the present. Pain management begins with the optimistic notion that you can have pain without being all that disabled.

  • Optimists are more likely to take vitamins than pessimists are. Optimists stay ahead of the curve as far as health and well-being go.

  • Optimists are more likely to follow through with rehab after a heart attack than pessimists are. If you don’t believe rehab is going to do you any good, what’s the point? With some patients, you have to first rehabilitate the mind (change to a more optimistic outlook) before you can rehab the body.

  • Optimists are less likely to suffer from depression or commit suicide than pessimists are. Optimists — even depressed optimists — can always see the light at the end of the tunnel. Not so for depressed pessimists. As far as they can see, it’s all an unending darkness, which is where despair and hopelessness comes from.

  • Optimists have more robust immune systems than pessimists do. The essence of health psychology and behavioral medicine is the belief that mind and body are inextricably connected as a result of the way people live their lives. If you live a robust, healthy, and happy life — which is easier to do if you’re optimistic — you will have a robust immune system, that invisible shield that keeps you well.

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