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Do you want the key that unlocks the door to happiness?
You actually already possess it. It’s called optimism.
According to London-based neurologist Tali Sharot, who wrote the book Optimism Bias: A Tour of the Irrationally Positive Brain, around 80% of the human population is inherently optimistic. Most of us just aren’t aware that we are.
When a person is an optimist, he or she tends to expect more positive things to happen than negative ones.
The good thing is that when people realize that they have this hopeful outlook within them, it does not take a lot of work to develop their optimistic side.
In this article, we will talk about why optimism is an important character trait to develop, and six reasons why optimism affects your happiness.
Let’s get to it.
The Areas of Our Lives Benefited by Optimism
Study after study has shown the different benefits of optimism on people’s health and well-being. Today, let’s discover together how being optimistic impacts the level of our happiness and other aspects of our lives. There are a variety of reasons to be optimistic, and after reading this article you will understand how powerful this frame of mind is.
The specific areas of our lives that can benefit from seeing the glass half full are as follows:
Careers and Vocations
Optimistic people have a positive outlook on the future and an inclination to view themselves as being in control of positive events. Optimism increases creativity and productivity. People who have hope in the future can focus on accomplishing tasks because they believe that their creative ideas will work.
Additionally, positive emotions such as optimism allow people to build upon their existing knowledge and abilities. Optimism promotes curiosity, a willingness to explore beyond one's daily tasks, and a motivation to take initiative. It allows people to look outward, rationalize anything that comes their way, and be open to making connections and trying new things.
Finally, optimistic individuals who become unemployed often attribute the causes of their job loss to external and temporary factors, rather than reasons specific to a lack of their success. This mindset allows optimistic people who are unemployed to continue to believe that they will be successful, and that a new job is in their future. This is one of the benefits of optimism that applies to most people and can help people get ahead in their careers.
People who are optimistic respond to the potential of failure by focusing instead on any progress they have made or positive results that they have achieved in the past that they can apply to future endeavors. Doing this instead of trying to avoid failure helps boost self-esteem because it allows people to reflect on their past successes.
Being able to optimistically focus on one's end goal requires the self-esteem and confidence to believe that success is possible. Optimistic people do not let failure define them, but rather use it as a stepping stone for new projects and opportunities.
Optimistic people seldom view others as enemies. They see the good in everyone, and are quick to offer the benefit of the doubt. This means they make friends faster in social situations compared with their pessimistic counterparts, who may only see the negative characteristics of those around them.
When it comes to romantic relationships, optimists and their partners are typically happier than couples that are more pessimistic. In fact, research out of the University of Oregon found that being optimistic is linked to having an increased sense of happiness in a relationship, regardless of whether or not both people or just one person was identified as being optimistic.
Several research studies have shown how optimism positively impacts psychical health. The positive psychological well-being of optimism, which includes the acceptance of oneself and positive relationships with others, has been linked to improved cardiovascular health.
In fact, one’s level of optimism has been found to be the biggest predictor of all cardiovascular diseases. People who are optimistic also have healthier levels of cholesterol, and research has found that over an eight-year period, people who were optimistic were less likely to die from all causes than those who classified themselves as being cynics.
When a person experiences all of these positive benefits, his or her level of happiness can definitely increase as well. Let's look at some answers to the question of how does optimism make you happy.
How Optimism Affects Happiness
1. A University of California study suggests that intentionally doing positive activities (e.g., expressing gratitude or being kind) can increase feelings of happiness.
In addition to one's motivation and efforts to do positive activities, people’s tendency to be optimistic can impact how much they could possibly gain from engaging in positive activities. The link between personality and happiness has been studied extensively, but researchers have only recently found that people who are optimistic and highly open to new experiences are exceptionally predisposed to benefit from doing these positive activities.
So, if you plan an activity—whether it is something that you know you will enjoy or not—if you are optimistic about the experience that you will have, you are likely to benefit from it in some way. Make it a point to do positive activities or random acts of kindness. Take time to show gratitude for the things in your life that you are thankful for, no matter how small they are. Doing so will increase your feelings of happiness.
2. Positive thinking can increase the feelings of happiness, as shown by the results of a study published in The International Journal of Indian Psychology.
One thing you can do to increase your positive thinking is to make it a point to come up with a positive thought every time you have a negative thought. This will help retrain your brain to think more positively. One's overall happiness is largely impacted by the ratio of positive to negative thoughts that take place, so try to make that ratio work in your best interest.
Once you become aware of your negative thinking patterns, it will be easier for you to begin to reduce them. Take some time every day to think about (or list) any positive thoughts that you have, whether that means writing in a gratitude journal or just making some observations of the things that are going right in your life at the time.
3. A study published in the BMJ reveals that optimism can protect against heart disease.
While researchers have long known that there is a significant relationship between poor psychological health and cardiovascular disease, studies are now showing that traits like hope and optimism, along with a higher level of satisfaction with one’s life, are linked to a reduction in the risk of cardiovascular diseases and stroke.
The results of one study strongly supported the notion that women with no pre-existing heart conditions benefit from having an optimistic outlook. Looking at 97,000 women with no pre-existing heart conditions who were assessed for their degree of optimism versus their levels of hostility and cynicism, it was found that those who had high levels of optimism had a 9% reduced risk for developing cardiovascular disease than women who had low levels of optimism. Further, women with high levels of hostility and cynicism had a 16% greater chance of dying than those who had low scores for hostility and cynicism.
4. Research published in the International Journal of Psychological and Behavioral Sciences shows that optimism and hope are associated with positive well-being, and will be absent when one is experiencing psychological problems.
Optimism and hope (which is having positive expectations about the future) are large factors in understanding one's susceptibility to mental illnesses, especially mood and anxiety disorders. There is a positive relationship between optimism and the ability to cope with adversity or stressful situations.
When one is able to use healthy coping strategies, optimism has an influence on their quality of life. Research shows that optimistic people have a higher quality of life versus those who look to the future in a negative light. One reason that optimism may have an impact on one's mental well-being is due to the propensity for optimistic people to live a healthy lifestyle and be resilient while having other positive cognitive responses as well. Optimism and positivity are linked to greater flexibility, improved problem-solving abilities and a better ability to handle negative information.
5. Being optimistic builds character necessary for success.
The character qualities that people possess in a business setting have a great impact on the success or failure of the business. They impact productivity and the ability of a business to make a profit, and can ultimately determine the success or failure of the business.
Business leaders are beginning to lean away from putting all of their focus on achievement and profit, and are spending more time analyzing and working on character qualities (such as optimism) that build the foundation for achievement. Employees with a positive outlook on the future are able to pay more attention to their work, be more alert, take on more responsibility, and work more diligently, resulting in greater success. Because of this, character training is an essential part of the success of a business.
6. Optimistic people tend to live longer, as revealed in a Dutch study published in JAMA.
Studies have often found a link between depression and an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and premature death from all causes. However, the relationship between optimism and improved health has been studied less frequently. Researchers do know that the personality trait of optimism has consistently been related to better health outcomes in general.
One study found specific statistics for this phenomenon. It found that African-American women who are optimistic have a 33% reduced risk of death from all causes than African-American women who are cynical or pessimists. Among white women, optimists have a survival advantage of 13%. Finally, African-American women who have high levels of hostility and cynicism have a 62% greater chance of death than African-American women who do not identify as being cynics.
This means that if you are someone who takes a proactive approach in your health and wellness, it is important to not neglect your state of mind. Being able to see the positive side of things can improve every aspect of your life.
Final Thoughts on Optimism and Happiness
Today, we’ve learned that optimism does indeed affect our level of happiness. We’ve also learned that optimism has benefits for our health and relationships.
By becoming aware of our optimistic tendencies, we can harness the benefits of this trait in order to achieve a better quality of life.
Finally, one proven way to improve your happiness and life satisfaction is to focus on goals that truly matter. To get started, check out this FREE printable worksheet and a step-by-step process that will help you set effective SMART goals.