Optimism v Pessimism
Are you an optimist or a pessimist? Which is better? Is it possible to learn to be an optimist, even if you’re a lifelong pessimist? Does it actually matter?
Far from being a ‘fluffy’ subject, there has been a lot of scientific research into the benefits of optimism. The results might surprise you. The effects of optimism can have transformational effects in almost every area of life. It’s influence on outcomes can be seen in health, education, business, leadership, politics and religion.
The evidence tells us that optimism can be learnt, no matter how pessimistic you are. Optimistic people tend to be healthier, have less visits to the doctor and be absent from work less frequently. Optimistic children and adults tend to enjoy greater academic success than their pessimistic counter parts. In business, optimists tend to generate more business, be more resilient and make for more inspiring leaders. We tend to be drawn to others who are optimistic rather than pessimistic both socially and professionally.
For some, optimism may come naturally. For others, trying to be optimistic may seem like being ‘fake’ or inauthentic. There are times when judicious use of pessimism is actually useful. For example when the risk of a mistake can result in serious injury or death for example. Who would want to have surgery carried out by a wildly optimistic surgeon? For most of us our decisions and actions, whatever the outcome do not have such life changing consequences. Therefore a ‘flexible’ approach to optimism is sometimes called for.
Developing optimism is more about a style of thinking and talking to ourselves rather than excessive sense of grandiose in front of others. We can have a sense of optimism and humility at the same time. It’s about how we deal with setbacks, disappointments and adversity. Far better to respond with a sense of strength rather than weakness.
The opposite of optimism is of course pessimism. There are times when mild pessimism might be useful. Left unchecked though, can lead to a downward spiral in physical and psychological health, creativity, resilience, productivity and leadership. Pessimism is the prelude to depression. Optimism prevents and and is the path to recovering from depression.
We will all face adversity in our life. The adversity may be anything from a minor irritation or disappointment to a major life event like a relationship break up, a job loss, financial or major health difficulties. Pessimism leads us to retreat, give up. Optimism with a sense of kindness to ourselves, energises us to take action to overcome the difficulty.
The good news is that optimism can be learnt, by anyone. Optimism benefits individuals, families, groups, teams, organisations and even countries.
Please feel free to contact us if you would like to learn more about optimism and how it might help you. (Even if you think there is no point!)