We all have that one friend who seems perpetually positive (or maybe it’s you). No matter how bleak the situation, she always seems to find the bright side or zero in on the silver lining. Whether she has an easygoing phlegmatic temperament or an enthusiastic sanguine one, very little can dampen her mood.
It can be easy to write off our perpetually positive friends as overly idealistic Pollyannas. But there’s something we can all learn from those who cultivate a healthy sense of optimism. Healthy optimists recognize the difference between being a realist versus an idealist—what some researchers call “realistic optimism,” which focuses on the positive in situations without ignoring the negative realities of the situation.
Healthy optimism looks for opportunities to cultivate a positive outlook while acknowledging that the reality of the situation is achievable. That means telling yourself that you will do well on your presentation at work, not telling yourself this even though you haven’t prepared and need to present in fifteen minutes.
Bonafide optimists reap many benefits from their “glass half full” attitude. Here’s why you should cultivate an optimistic spirit.
01. Optimists are physically healthier and live longer.
Positivity is linked to several physical health benefits including a lower risk of heart disease, a stronger immune system, fewer aches, and pains, according to The Greater Good Science Center at the University of California Berkeley. And a 2016 Harvard study in the American Journal of Epidemiology shows that women who have a positive outlook have a much lower risk (nearly 30 percent) of dying from serious illnesses. While the precise link between positive thinking and these health benefits is still unclear, according to the Mayo Clinic, they make a great case for keeping a hopeful and forward-thinking outlook.
02. Optimists are less stressed.
A 2009 study in Biological Psychology found that students with a positive disposition had complete and prolonged recovery after a stressful incident. In my work as a counselor, one of the most powerful benefits of intentionally practicing optimism in daily life is that it provides a buffer against stress. Focusing on the positives and cultivating hope that they will overcome, helps my clients cope with difficult events in their lives.
03. Optimists make better leaders.
Because of their unique outlook, some of the world's greatest leaders have been more optimistic than the average person—think of the female mathematicians behind Hidden Figures, Pulitzer Prize winner Sheryl WuDunn, or Mother Teresa. They saw a bigger picture when it came to overcoming the impossible, which enabled them to be inspiring communicators, eliciting superhuman efforts to rally people toward a better future.
04. Optimists see opportunity where others see uncertainty and despair.
As Winston Churchill, a staunch optimist, once said, “Optimists see opportunities in every difficulty.” This doesn't mean overlooking key information in a situation because they are assuming the best possible outcome. An idealistic optimist might discount the impact that a negative performance review at work might have on their chances at a promotion, believing that the hiring team will overlook cons in favor of her other positive qualities. A realistic optimist, on the other hand, might focus on how to address the negative review to increase her chances for a promotion. It’s in situations like these where being a little more pessimistic can work to your advantage because you can spot potential pitfalls and address them before you fall into them.
05. Optimists can (and should) still worry.
Other research has found that worrying can help some people be better prepared for situations, according to Scientific American. Using worry to motivate you to prepare better for a big presentation is a helpful quality. An idealistic optimist who is over-confident about their ability to do well in presentations might not prepare as well for the same presentation. So in some situations, worrying can still serve the perpetually positive well.
To be more mindful of positive thinking throughout the day, try simple strategies such as smiling more, reframing your thoughts about a situation, and building resiliency, as recommended by Johns Hopkins Medicine. Or try my tips on how to improve your health through daily positivity via stress management, acts of gratitude, and surrounding yourself with uplifting friends.
Photo Credit: Shannon Lee Miller