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Why Optimists Will Always Kick Pessimists’ Butts

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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.

Brazen powers real-time, online events for leading organizations around the world. Our lifestyle and career blog, Brazen Life, offers fun and edgy ideas for ambitious professionals navigating the changing world of work.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=580200391 Esther Goh

    I used to be a huge pessimist – now I’d consider myself a realist, who hopes for the best and plans for the worst. I’ve gotten real good at seeing the silver lining after a string of setbacks, and I definitely agree that overall taking an optimistic view beats the alternative – mindset is HUGELY important.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=156741187672272 Cordelia Calls It Quits

      Hoping for the best but being prepared for the worst is a healthy way to go about things. And being optimistic allows you to *handle* “the worst” better if it should wind up happening. Good for you!

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  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001879292863 Rj Räďħě

    nice post,,,,,

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=156741187672272 Cordelia Calls It Quits

      Why thank you, sir. :)

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001944926597 Black LotusButterfly

    I love.love.love.love this post….I get so tired of folks criticizing me for being positive…when you’re positive to me, that means, options….finding another way. when you choose to be pessimistic, to me, this is constricting..you lessen your options for finding solutions and making a way out of no way….Here’s to keeping it positive and being optimistic! Great article. I think I will be reading the blog, Cordelia Calls it Quits more often……:-)

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=156741187672272 Cordelia Calls It Quits

      Thank you so much! I look forward to having you on board!

      You’re so right about equating optimism with options. Critics like to equate it with being delusional, but that’s not the case–your reality is shaped by your perspective. Being pessimistic is just as “delusional,” only the results are much less desirable. :)

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1327157814 Linda Daniels

    Great post. For me being an optimist is the only option. The alternative is just too depressing :)

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=156741187672272 Cordelia Calls It Quits

      Exactly. :)

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=633725322 Raja Hindustani

    Good thought on being optimistic.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100003975381162 Charm Thriving

    Understanding when it is beneficial, when it is about to kill you, and everything in between, is the key for making successful use of optimism..

    cheers,
    http://charmmarketing.com

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=549229314 Danielle Kiely

    Call me a pessimist, but this post urks me. I actually consider myself to be an optimistic person but any intelligent person knows you can’t just lump people into pessimist types and optimist types. Even the most optimistic person has there bad days, things are sometimes uncontrollable. Everyone feels bad sometimes. For example, if a normally optimistic person’s spouse passes away and they are depressed for months after.. If you saw them shopping at the grocery store and they weren’t “energetic and optimistic” would you assume they were pessimistic? To me this jumps to conclusions without considering real life causes. It’s just too quick to judge people around you when everyone is bound to have hard times and times at which being super optimistic doesn’t help. Also, being critical does not equate to being pessimistic. In fact some of the most successful people I know have a combined optimism with their ability to think critically. Critical ability and critical thinking is not a bad thing and serves a purpose. If you are not a critical thinker that’s fine, but don’t judge others who have this ability as being pessimistic. They may simply have acquired a skill that you do not have.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100002010914033 Allen Drache Hollstein

    Wonderful article. May I also add a little trick I learned a long time ago: every time you’re tempted to say the problem, replace it with opportunity. Things change.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001767938002 Vincent Kernaghan

      Nice twist – exactly what I do to recover from a kick in my figurative teeth. Now that I think about it, it reminds me of the movie, “Yes Man”. Funny flick.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001767938002 Vincent Kernaghan

    Love the spot-on info Kelly! Now just tell me what to do about the optimists that are kicking other optimist butts like mine. I’m thinking of applying the concept of ‘human shield’, but obviously only in a positive way.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=699472406 Tom Bubenik

    Good news, everyone! turns out that “optimism” bug, the one that makes people both insufferable and constantly WRONG about everything? the national academy of science fixed it! woo!

    http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2012/09/17/1205828109.abstract

    maybe, ms Kelly Gurnett, eventually you too will receive the benefits of this cure, and then you can stop wasting all your time writing self-congratulatory articles about how awesome you are, and how many health benefits there are, to being actively incorrect pretty much all the time.

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