I listed optimism as one of the ten things you should do every day to improve your life. Yet pessimism does have advantages and plenty of people see it as a better way to view the world. What does the research say about the best outlook to take?
Glass as half full
The army teaches soldiers to be optimistic because it makes them tougher and more resourceful. Just believing you can become smarter and can become a better negotiator have both been shown to increase improvement.
Being socially optimistic — expecting people to like you — makes people like you more. Expecting a positive outcome from negotiations made groups more likely to come to a deal and to be happy with it.
Optimistic salespeople are more successful.
And optimism researcher Tali Sharot explains that, no, being pessimistic doesn’t soften the blow of bad news.
So why would anyone choose to be pessimistic?
Optimism can blind us. Pessimism can correct your brain’s natural positive bias. Those who are the most optimistic about their own willpower are actually the most likely to give in to temptation.
The reason you can predict your friends’ behavior better than they can is because we are all realistic about others’ actions and a little too optimistic about our own.Extremely happy people and very trusting people don’t fare as well as those who are more moderate.
In some situations, negative thinking offers a clear advantage.
There’s even evidence that shallow efforts at optimism can make people feel worse.
So what’s the best outlook?
Does this seem like there’s no way to win? Totally contradictory?
Improvement requires a focus on the negative and an awareness of all the things that can go wrong. On the other hand, perfect execution requires irrational levels of self-confidence. So when the pressure is on, yes, top performers need to engage in a type of doublethink to be at their best.
For most of us, though, those situations are rare. What should you take away from all this?
- The majority of the time, think positive. Happiness and health trump pretty much everything else.
- There are situations where negativity can help, like when we’re making high-stakes plans or trying to improve skills.
You don’t have to see everything through rose-colored glasses (in fact, that’s bad) but avoid taking a pessimistic attitude where negative events are seen as pervasive, permanent and uncontrollable. Try to see them more as local, temporary and changeable.
This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.
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