Optimism vs. Pessimism: Which is better for your health?

The way we view the world can say a lot about our mental and physical well-being. It can influence the people we interact with, the decisions we make, and the experiences we have. You might think that there are tons of benefits to being an optimist, but is that really true? As it turns out, there are some benefits to all three traits! Let’s talk about optimism vs. pessimism. Which is better for your health?

Optimism vs. pessimism
Optimism vs. pessimism

Optimism vs. pessimism

You’ve probably heard how seeing the glass half empty means your more of a pessimist, and the glass half full means you’re a optimist. But what do these terms really mean, and what does it mean to be a realist?

High self-esteem, a cheerful attitude that tends to look at the positive aspects of a given situation, as well as an optimistic belief in a bright future are associated with physiological activity in the left-hemisphere of the brain

Optimism vs. Pessimism: Optimism

Optimists believe in the beauty of the world and choose to focus on the positive things in life. They tend to have internal locus of control, meaning that they believe they are in control of their own decisions and experiences. Optimists are also very future oriented, believing that tomorrow is a better day. In terms of the present, optimists see it as completely neutral. From that present moment, the next one could either be good or bad. But they see that moment as an opportunity to make something good happen. Optimists are also able to see how today’s decisions can affect tomorrow’s experiences.

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Because of their views on the world, optimists tend to exude confidence. Optimists are able to take on whatever the world throws at them, and are able to continue in the face of adversity. In addition, optimists like to see that there is possibility in everything, and that the world is their oyster. This viewpoint can be great for mental, social, and physical health, though there can be some harmful effects. We’ll talk about this later, though.

Optimism vs. Pessimism: Pessimism

Pessimists often choose to believe in the negative outcomes in life. They tend to have an external locus of control, or the belief that external factors such as fate or the environment will make things impossible. They also tend to focus on the past, and use those experiences to predict future events. For example, a really happy and successful person could see a bleak future for themselves, probably based on a past trauma

Pessimists also have a hard time believing that they can overcome challenges. Thus, they might not have as much confidence as optimists. And where optimists might see possibility, pessimists might just see problems. But when difficulty does arrive, it is a pervasive event, which means that these problems are an indication that many other things in life are going to go wrong. Pessimists also have the tendency to take the actions of others personally. For example, if someone were to cut them off in traffic, they might be angry or upset, whereas an optimist might just see that the other person is having a bad day.

Which is better for your health?

There have been many studies examining how optimism vs. pessimism affect health. While it makes sense to think that optimists are healthier than pessimists, studies also show that optimistic people might have shorter life spans. And as it turns out, there are actually some benefits to being a pessimist.

Benefits of being pessimistic: optimism vs. pessimism

Optimists are likely to take on more stress because of their tendency to see possibility and opportunity. Increased stress brings on increased risk of cardiovascular problems, such as heart attacks or increased blood pressure. Psychologists suggest that being pessimistic actually helps to deal with stress better. Pessimists start with low expectations of an event, and examine all the worst possible outcomes. This can actually help you feel a little less nervous, because you’ll be prepared for the worst to happen. (Read more on the brain and stress)

Some studies also show that pessimists are more likely to take preventative action against possible health issues. This is because of their tendency to think about what could possibly go wrong. It is like a constant battle of optimism vs pessimism.

Benefits of being optimistic: optimism vs. pessimism

Although they take on more stress, optimists are also well equipped to handle that stress. Even if something does go wrong, they are able to still see possibilities for the future. Pessimists on the other hand, are likely to focus largely on the negativity, and pessimism combined with stress is actually associated with depression. This makes optimism vs pessimism very tricky.

People who have a more positive outlook on life are more likely to take care of themselves in terms of eating well, and exercising (what are some benefits of exercise on the brain?). Studies have also shown that optimists have stronger social networks, and better medical care.

How to be more optimistic

Some studies say that optimism vs pessimism is linked to genes, which would explain why some people just have a natural disposition towards a positive outlook on life. But that doesn’t mean you can’t work towards it if you aren’t one already! Try these tips on how to be more optimistic.

  1. Change your perspective: The next time you’re feeling down about something, try to look at the bright side. Sounds like a cliche, but changing your perspective on things can lighten your mood and make you feel much better. You can also try placing the blame on someone else, but in a good way. For example, if you say “I’m really bad at playing piano” just change it to say “This person is a really talented piano player.” Shifiting from a self-blaming mindset can help you let go of the past and focus on the future.
  2. Focus on solutions: If you find yourself with a problem feeling low, try focusing on how you can make it better. Ask yourself “Can I do something to fix this? What can I do?” Replace problem-focused thinking with solution-focused thinking and it will immediately make you feel better.
  3. Find things that make you happy: Life often gets in the way of us enjoying the things we love most. But taking the time to do what you love is really good for your physical and mental health. Make a list of things that keep you happy, or keep something with you wherever you go. For example, if reading makes you happy, then carry a book with you everywhere. When you’re feeling stressed or upset, just do what makes you happy to distract yourself from whatever was upsetting you. If you come back to it later, chances are you won’t feel as upset, and you’ll be able to work on problem-solving for the future.
  4. Visualize your ideal life: Imagine what you want for yourself, including how you look, how you feel, where you live, what you’re doing, what you’ve accomplished, and what your life is like. This will help you focus and improve your mood since you will see yourself in another light. It will also help you create life goals for personal growth.
  5. Minimize obstacles to success: Once you have imagined what you want your life to look like, try to create steps to achieve this. Eliminate unnecessary steps and focus on the big picture.
  6. Give yourself compliments: Being good to yourself is a key factor in gaining optimism. Not putting yourself down but instead complimenting yourself you become aware of your positive attributes and qualities and therefore become your optimistic.
  7. Surround yourself with optimism: The more you associate with optimistic people, the more likely you are to become optimistic yourself. Who we hang out with plays a major role in how we act, think, and feel. Studies on college student dating relationships showed that partners who were both optimists had healthier and more supportive relationships. Researchers connected this optimism to satisfaction with the relationship, and the ability to constructively resolve conflicts.

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