5 Unbelievable Facts About Optimists

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Optimism isn’t about being oblivious to the bad stuff. That’s denial. Optimism—a trait that defines how we interpret and think about ourselves and the world around us—is about knowing how much control you have in a situation and expecting a good outcome when you take steps to control what you can.

It’s probably not a surprise that optimistic thinkers tend to be happier than pessimistic thinkers. But there are other benefits to being optimist, some of which seem hard to believe. Here are five that may surprise you:

Optimists Live Longer

A number of studies link optimism and overall health and longevity. Optimistic thinkers have lower rates of hypertension and heart disease and lower rates or mortality in general. On average, optimists live about 8 to 10 years longer than pessimists. Yes, that’s right—nearly a full decade! And that extra decade tends to be one lived in good health. These health factors may largely be influenced by optimists’ focus on taking care of themselves and exhibiting appropriate self-control. When given a poor but manageable health prognosis, pessimists are more likely to become fatalistic and view a heart attack or treatable cancer as an impending death sentence.

Optimists, on the other hand, recognize the severity but are more likely to take the necessary steps to return to health.

Optimists Have Better Love Lives

Optimists have higher quality and longer-lasting romantic relationships, according to researchers from Stanford University. And, perhaps surprisingly, these results hold when only one partner is an optimist.

Psychologists believe optimism leads to a greater sense of perceived support from a partner, which helps couples fight fair. When asked about a point of contention in the relationship, both optimistic thinkers and their partners were more likely to say that the other partner was invested in making the relationship better, leading to greater conflict resolution. Other research shows that the more we idealize our partners—telling ourselves they are great in ways that might be out of touch with reality—the happier we are in our relationships.

Optimists are More Successful

Selling life insurance is a tough job. An intervention with salespeople at Metropolitan Life insurance showed that the most optimistic thinkers outsold the most pessimistic thinkers by 88%. There are a number of possible reasons for this including that optimists are seen as being more charismatic, are more likely to persist until their goal is achieved, and find it easier to shake off a bad outcome so that it doesn’t affect them in their next attempt.

Optimists tend to have an easier time when job-hunting, finding comparable jobs to pessimists with less effort. When they are working, optimists are more likely to be promoted and optimistic managers may be more effective at helping others to be productive and to achieve their goals.

Optimists Take Fewer Sick Days

Optimists get sick less and when they do, they get better more quickly. Optimistic thinkers recover faster from major surgery, experience fewer injuries, have less pain in chronic conditions, and have fewer markers of inflammation. In particular, one study exposed people who had been rated on their level of optimism to influenza and human rhinovirus—the course of the common cold. The subjects who were more positive were less likely to develop a disease in the first place, and when they <i>did</i> get sick, they were more likely to rate their symptoms as manageable.

Optimists Bounce Back Faster and Stronger

In a study of elite college varsity swim teams, athletes were told by their coach to swim their best event. When finished, the coach provided false feedback about their time, adding a couple seconds. This difference was small enough be believable but large enough to cause disappointment in the swimmers. They were then given a half hour to rest—and presumably ruminate about the failure they just experienced—and then repeat the event. On the second attempt, pessimistic thinkers swam on average 1.6% slower than their first attempt. The optimistic thinkers, however, swam 0.5% faster than had previously. In the competitive world of swimming, the difference between the optimists and pessimists was the difference between winning and losing an event. Optimists, as it turns out, might actually use failure as fuel to perform even better in the future.

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