“When things go wrong, don’t go with them.” – Elvis Presley

When you are living and working purposefully and relentlessly pursuing your dreams, you are going to fail. When you do, how do you react? Where does your mind go first? When you are at work and something isn’t as you would want it to be, what do you say? What do you think? How do you treat others when they oppose your ideas?

More importantly, how do you respond to obstacles?

Research has shown there to be no negative physical or emotional effects of being positive, in fact, researchers over the past 50 years (cited at the end of this post) have indicated that optimism is a key tool for your survival as a human being. In fact, people whose general temperament  leans toward a positive outlook, are 47% less likely to die of heart disease and 23% less likely to die of cancer and other early causes of death.

For pessimists, the outlook is less than half empty. Researchers over the past 50 years have discovered that those who live lives with a generally negative and critically oriented worldview live shorter lives, have higher rates of divorce, are eight times more likely to struggle with anxiety and depression, and are frequently outperformed and out-promoted in their careers than those who identify as optimistic or having a positive worldview.

All of this research was a hard pill to swallow for me, an admitted “realist.” (Which is just another word for yearning to find value in pessimism).

There is hope for us pessimists. Researchers have also shown that optimism is a “learned” behavior, which means that by simply changing our mindset and working at it everyday, we can live healthier, happier, and more profitable lives.

One of the first steps is choosing, on a day-to-day basis, how we respond to negative events and obstacles in our lives. If we are willing and ready to take a long hard look at our thoughts and if we work hard enough at it, we can train our minds to view negative events as isolated incidents that have no bearing on our future possibility and we can also keep negative events in check with reality.

We’ll be better for it.

Thomas Edison had 1,392 patents before he invented the light bulb. As I sit here looking at this illuminated computer screen, I am sure glad he identified as an optimist.

– Zach

Some sources:

Beck, A.T. (1967). Depression: Clinical, experimental and theoretical aspects. New York: Hoeber.

Bromberger JT, Matthews KA. (1996). A longitudinal study of the effects of pessimism, trait anxiety, and life stress on depressive symptoms in middle-aged women. Psychology & Aging, 11, 001–007.

Buchanan, G. M., & Seligman, M. E. P. (Eds.). (1995). Explanatory style. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum

Carver, C. S., & Gaines, J. G. (1987). Optimism, pessimism, and postpartum depression. Cognitive Therapy and Research, 11, 449-462.

Chang, E. C. (1998a). Dispositional optimism and primary and secondary appraisal of a stressor: Controlling for confounding influences and relations to coping and psychological and physical adjustment. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 74, 1109-1120.

Chang, E. C. (1998b). Distinguishing between optimism and pessimism: A second look at the “optimism-neuroticism hypothesis.” In R. R. Hoffman, M. F. Sherrik, & J. S. Warm (Eds.), Viewing psychology as a whole: The integrative science of William N. Dember (pp. 415-432). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Chang, E. C., Maydeu-Olivares, A., & D’Zurilla, T. J. (1997). Optimism and pessimism as partially independent constructs: Relations to positive and negative affectivity and psychological well-being. Personality and Individual Differences, 23, 433-440.

Ellis, A., & Harper, R. A. (1975).A new guide to rational living. North Hollywood, California: Wilshire Books.
Gillham, J. E., Reivich, K. J., Jaycox, L. H., & Seligman, M. E. P. (1995). Prevention of depressive symptoms in school children: Two-year follow-up. Psychological Science, 6, 343-351.

Norem, J. K., & Cantor, N. (1986). Defensive pessimism: Harnessing anxiety as motivation. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 51, 1208-1217.

Peterson, C. (2006).  A Primer In Positive Psychology. New York: Oxford University Press.

Reed, G. M., Kemeny, M. E., Taylor, S. E., Wang, H. Y. J., & Visscher, B. R. (1994). Realistic acceptance as predictor of decreased survival time in gay men with AIDS. Health Psychology, 13, 299-307.

Robins, R. W., & John, O. P. (1997). The quest for self-insight: Theory and research on accuracy and bias in self perception. In R. Hogan, J. Johnson, & S. Briggs, Handbook of personality psychology (pp. 649-679). New York: Academic Press.

Scheier, M. F., & Carver, C. S. (1992). Effects of optimism on psychological and physical well-being: Theoretical overview and empirical update. Cognitive Therapy and Research, 16, 201-228.

Scheier, M.F., Carver, C.S., & Bridges, M.W. (2001). Optimism, pessimism, and psychological well-being.  In E.C. Chang (ed.), Optimism and pessimism: Implications for theory, research, and practice (pp. 189-216). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Schofield, P., Ball, D., Smith, J. G., Borland, R., O’Brien, P., Davis, S., et al.  (2004). Optimism and survival in lung carcinoma patients. Cancer, 100, 1276-1282.

Seligman, M. E. P. (1990). Learned Optimism. New York: Simon & Schuster, Inc

Segerstrom, Suzanne C. (2006). Breaking Murphy’s Law. New York: The Guildford Press.

Taylor, S. E. (1989). Positive Illusions :creative self-deception and the healthy mind. New York: Basic Books.

  • Tiger, L. (1979). Optimism: the biology of hope. New York, Simon & Schuster, Inc.
  • Tomakowsky, J., Lumley, M. A., Markowitz, N., & Frank, C. (2001). Optimistic explanatory style and dispositional optimism in HIV-infected men. Journal of Psychosomatic Research, 51, 577-587.