Would you describe yourself as a pessimist or an optimist?
I personally used to be a raging pessimist. Quite literally raging every time I was slightly hungry, my emotional age regressed by decades, leaving me a child-man incapable of dealing with anything. Somewhat problematically, this even included choosing which food to calm the hungry beast.
Today I would identify as an optimistic person. This was thanks to lots of work on myself, reflection and desire to change my mindset (and diet). First, counterintuitively I scrapped breakfast, and then I ditched fast-release carbohydrates. Now hanger is a thing of the past.
For you, is the glass half full, or is it half empty? And is the little water there is stagnant? Maybe you've never considered this. Or perhaps not wanting to seem like Eeyore you've rebranded yourself into a realist.
In this blog, we'll explore how your outlook on life can impact your health and general wellness. Research shows that how we think can significantly impact our life expectancy. Optimists tend to live 11-15% longer than pessimists.
What is optimism?
Optimism – hopefulness and confidence about the future or the success of something.
What is pessimism?
Pessimism - a tendency to see the worst aspect of things or believe that the worst will happen.
"Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement; nothing can be done without hope." – Helen Keller.
But optimism isn't just positive thinking and daydreaming. It's the ability to focus on a positive outcome, invest, act, and put time into a desired result.
Where pessimists may become overwhelmed, stressed and negative about things they cannot control generally, optimists will focus on what they can change and put in the effort to make it happen.
Now this isn't to say that any level of scepticism is unhealthy. Preparing for the worst but expecting the best is an approach that leads to the best outcomes.
The Health Effects of Pessimism and Optimism
As consumer sentiment changes, outcomes follow, and you can see pessimism play out across a whole economy. People's attitudes towards the future change their behaviour, which has a knock-on effect.
The same is true with people's health. The more they worry and are convinced of doom and gloom, the more their stress increases, along with the risk of depression, anxiety and decreased immune system function, like taking a negative placebo.
The inverse is true for optimists. They see lower stress levels, better emotional resilience, and stronger immune system function. All of this combines to help them live longer, likely more fulfilling lives than their pessimist counterparts.
One of the beautiful quirks of existing as a human being is that you get to enjoy your ability to choose. To choose how you think or feel, in other words, to change your mindset.
Take Christian Picciolini, for example. He was a radical Neo-Nazi, a leader of the movement in the US in the 80s & 90s, recruiting over 100 members himself. Since then, he has taken a complete U-turn and is a leading voice campaigning against extremism. He has now made it his life's mission to help people leave the very movement he was so absorbed in.
Your current mindset, no matter how ingrained it feels, is not fixed. You have the power to change and reap the benefits of a perspective that serves you, your health and your relationships.
Strategies for Practising Optimism:
Reframing the negative
- Look for the silver lining or the chance to learn; the obstacle will likely change into an opportunity.
- When we experience gratitude, our brains release chemicals, such as dopamine and serotonin, associated with happiness and well-being. Over time, this can strengthen the neural pathways associated with positive thinking and emotions, making it easier to feel grateful and optimistic.
- We suggest keeping a gratitude journal or taking time each day to reflect on what you are thankful for.
Surrounding oneself with positive people.
- Spending time with people who uplift and support you can help you maintain a positive outlook and stay motivated towards your goals.
A lot of stuff is just in our heads. Even if being pessimistic didn't negatively impact health and how pleasant you are to be around (which it does), being too fixated on things you can't control is ultimately not the recipe for success.
Pursuing a mindset of acceptance and equanimity allows you to thrive in the good and the bad. Accepting things and not allowing external events to disturb your inner tranquillity. This attitude involves recognising that some things are beyond our control and focusing instead on what we can control: our own thoughts, emotions, and actions.
With time and effort, you can shift your mindset towards a more positive outlook and live a happier, more fulfilling life.