An optimist sees a solution for every problem; a pessimist sees a problem for every solution
Almost every day we are confronted with situations that are subject to uncertainty. Whether we have an important exam, waiting for results, are on the way home on foot and a thunderstorm is coming up or when we cheer for our favorite sports team: We cannot predict the outcome of these situations.
Most people have colored thoughts in regard to these uncertainties; we tend to perceive ambiguous circumstances in either positive or negative light. So-called realists are a rather uncommon appearance. Of course, we tend to be subject to regression to the mean and, therefore, extremes such as naive optimists – almost bending the truth and take abnormal risks – and depressive pessimists are pretty rare.
Nevertheless, I would love to tell you why it is so important to me why a positive mindset – aka being an optimist is so important to me and my daily life. Moreover, I enrich my reasoning with scientific research; the source list can be found at the end of the article.
Furthermore, before we jump into the article. Here, you can access a test created by Stanford University researchers to estimate whether you are more optimistic or pessimistic. Pretty interesting to get an objective idea of your thinking and it only takes 10 minutes.
More success in your career
Scientific studies show a clear tendency: People acquired a positive mindset are more successful in their job, have on average a higher salary and accomplish more challenging goals than their contrary peers in the long-run.
Martin Seligman – a very old psychologist teaching and researching at the University of Pennsylvania – dedicated his life to the exploration of positive psychology. In one of his studies, he found out that approx. 70% of the polled self-made millionaires are optimists. Seligman reasons that people with a positive mindset are more likely to solve challenging problems better as well as to overcome failure and fix mistakes.
It is like a self-fulfilling prophecy
In addition to the scientific evidence, I would like to emphasize that in my opinion, it is also evident that optimists tend to be more successful: If you genuinely believe that you can master a challenge, then it is clear to me that logically the chances for mastering it automatically increase. You tune your brain to failure when you tell yourself that you most likely will not do it and that the likelihood of failure is high. It is like a self-fulfilling prophecy. Being optimistic implies more self-confidence. What leads us to the next consideration.
An optimistic mindset favor self-confidence
The belief being able to determine one’s own destiny and influence one’s own journey of life requires you to have faith in your own power and control over different kinds of situations. People believing in the positive outcome of situations tend to perceive life as something they have control of, whereas pessimists tend to have a fixed mindset implying their path of life is fixed and therefore cannot change.
Thus, optimists are more likely to risk something. As a result, they fail more often, but also learn more when it comes to getting out of the comfort zone. People who have a positive feeling towards failure are more likely to challenge themselves. Consequently, positive minds are more open to going up to people they do not know.
We all know this situation: There is this one person we want to talk to. Whether it is a person we find particularly handsome, an idol or we simply want to ask a question. But we do not dare. Instead, we think about different scenarios of how we could approach the person. Unfortunately, with every minute we think about the uncertain situation the odds for doing it are dropping.
People with a positive mindset, though, generally cope with these situations differently. With our positive bias that all people like us and the case is going to end positively anyway, we are more likely to have the courage to do it.
Moreover, optimists have a tendency to overestimate their capabilities. Admittedly, this can result in complacency and can have severe drawbacks. Nevertheless, this characteristic helps us to develop stronger self-esteem as we learn more about what we are capable of and what we are not. And this is what self-confidence is all about: Self-assurance in one’s personal judgment, ability, and power.
A positive mindset implies a happier life
Finally, I want to address another vital aspect of an optimistic mind. Through the attentive observation of friends, I have noticed that people with a positive mindset tend to be happier. There is a friend I got to know at the beginning of my semester abroad. Whenever I see her, she is unbelievably energetic, positively minded and smiling. When I drew my attention to the way she expressed her thoughts, I discovered that she was almost never negatively minded, but rather tended to be a little naive.
This is actually the reason why I am currently writing this article. This obvious relationship between her happiness and her positive thought process made me think about this whole topic, reflect on past experiences and enrich my reasoning with scientific research.
According to the vast majority of science in this field, people with a positive mindset are less likely to suffer from depression, can cope better with strokes of fate and overcome negative feelings because of failure faster. Optimists see – per definition – the good in even the worst situations. When receiving feedback, people with an optimistic attitude are more likely to embrace and appreciate it.
High achievement takes place in a framework of high expectations
People with a pessimistic mindset, though, might argue that they are the happier people for the following reason: As they expect less and, thus, are more likely to exceed their expectations, they seem to be happier more often. For instance, when you tell yourself that you will not pass the exam scheduled for tomorrow – although you had learned sufficiently – and you eventually pass with a decent grade, you might be happier than an optimistic having high expectations and, eventually, falls short of one’s expectations.
BUUUT: This is only true in the short-run. Yes, you are happier when you exceed or meet your expectations and you are sad when you cannot excel. However, optimistic people tend to strive for more; they expect more, and, as high achievement takes place in a framework of high expectations, they eventually will achieve more. High achievement leads to higher satisfaction which ultimately leads to greater long-run happiness.
Moreover, while the pessimist is worried about not passing, the optimist is positively minded and happy. During this state of uncertain – until you get the results of your exam – you feeling emotions more extensively. Consequently, pessimists are less happy on average than their contrary peers.
This was this week’s article. I hope you liked it. Let me know if you have any questions, remarks or feedback. Highly appreciated!
See you next week when I will write about how you can become more positively minded!
All the best to you and yours,
Martin E. P. Seligman, 1990: Learned Optimism.
Esteve, Rosa; López-Martínez, Alicia E.; Peters, Madelon L.; Serrano-Ibáñez, Elena R.; Ruiz-Párraga, Gema T.; Ramírez-Maestre, Carmen: Optimism, Positive and Negative Affect, and Goal Adjustment Strategies
Carver, C. S., Scheier, M. F. & Segerstrom, S. C. (2010). Optimism. Clinical Psychology Review, 30(7), 879–889.
Hanssen, M. M., Peters, M. L., Vlaeyen, J. W., Meevissen, Y. M. & Vancleef, L. M. (2013). Optimism lowers pain: Evidence of the causal status and underlying mechanisms. Pain, 154(1), 53–58.
Schueller, S. M. & Seligman, M. E. P. (2008). Optimism and pessimism. In K. S. Dobson & D. J. A. Dozois (Hrsg.), Risk Factors in Depression (S. 171–194). San Diego, CA: Academic Press.