You’ve heard it before. There are two types of people in this world: eternal optimists and pessimists. No one likes to be known as the latter. But do you really have to be stuck in that category forever? Or is this assumption hindering your happiness?
Optimists have been shown to live healthier lives. A 2003 study asked patients with a neuromuscular disease to record five things they were grateful for every day for three weeks. What the researchers found was that the patients’ sleep improved, as did their overall mental health.
Another study looked at people with high risks for heart disease who were trying to make important changes in their health and lifestyles to steer clear of future illnesses. The research concluded that it was the optimists of the group who were more successful in reaching their goals.
Research has shown that, on a fundamental level, optimists simply do better in life than their pessimist counterparts. They care about their health and take proper measures to nurture it, they have more engagement in their lives, they have higher salaries and they have better relationships.
Meanwhile, pessimism is a big indicator of depression. Yikes! But, before you get all Eeyore on the situation with your Debbie Downer ways, just know this: Optimism is learned. This means that you can certainly ditch your negative ways and hop on the happy train.
“Not surprisingly, numerous studies show that possessing such a pessimistic self-explanatory style places us at an extreme disadvantage, mostly by preventing us from responding to adversity in ways that make it easier to surmount,” explains Alex Lickerman, M.D. in Psychology Today.
“Telling ourselves, for example, that we failed a test because we lack good test-taking skills—meaning that we lack inherent ability—may discourage us from preparing for a makeup test, leading us to fail it again,” he says. “On the other hand, if we tell ourselves we failed a test because we didn’t study enough—meaning we didn’t make the effort, something over which we have significant control—we’re more likely to redouble our efforts the second time around and pass it.”
So can you change your negative ways? Absolutely. It may take some determination and mindfulness, but it’s absolutely feasible. And you don’t have to force yourself to be happy when something really sucky happens. Rather, it’s about taking a second look at the explanation you give yourself when something doesn’t go your way.
No more negative self-talk. Lots more constructive self-talk instead.