There are some benefits to having a more cynical view of life. As Pulitzer-Prize winner George F. Will put it, “The nice part about being a pessimist is that you are constantly being either proven right or pleasantly surprised.” Insightful, don’t you think? Research by Gibson and Sanbonmatsu (2004) suggests that pessimists may be better gamblers, as optimists are more likely to keep trying to win despite losses, while their more negative counterparts will cut their losses and walk away. Moreover, Dr. Julie Norem, in her book The Positive Power of Negative Thinking, highlights the benefits of “defensive pessimism” in contrast to “hopeless pessimism.” People who practice the former will anticipate all the things that can go wrong in their pursuit of a goal, but will still move forward with a certain degree of confidence once they feel that they have sufficiently prepared and planned for potential obstacles. It is the latter type of pessimism that is more likely to be linked to depression. But before pessimists offer a sarcastically-laced “I told you so,” there are several benefits to an optimistic attitude that cannot be ignored.
With a sample of over 16,000 people from all walks of life, Queendom uncovered several advantages to a more optimistic attitude. Optimistic people are more satisfied with their relationships, both in their personal life and at work, are more comfortable taking risks, and tend to rate their health better than pessimists. Optimists also cope better with stress and are more confident during a crisis, fully believing that they’ll get through it. Queendom’s research also reveals that test-takers who admitted to being diagnosed with depression tended to score significantly lower than those who have not been diagnosed on optimism-related traits like hopefulness and sense of belonging.
Gender comparisons reveal that women have a stronger sense of belonging (social and emotional support from others) than men (score of 66 for women, 62 for men, on a scale from 0 to 100), and were also slightly less cynical (40 for women, 43 for men). Age comparisons indicate that optimism increases with age, as does hopefulness, sense of belonging, and the ability to cope with stress. Interestingly, cynicism actually decreases with age, perhaps putting to rest the stereotype of older people being grumpy, as characterized by films like “Grumpy Old Men”, or iconic Dickens’ character Ebenezer Scrooge.
But before the optimists frolic around the pessimists scowling demeanor, there is one important thing to note here:
Queendom did find optimists who also possess a sense of “invincibility,” with 63% of them being younger than 25. These extreme optimists are characterized as very confident, resilient against stress, and rated themselves as being in good physical health. The downside: analyses also reveal that only 27% of the people in this group wear a seatbelt when in a car, compared to 69% for the rest of Queendom’s sample. So what’s the verdict? Optimism, combined with a healthy dose of common sense is the ideal compromise here. (Note: common sense is not equivalent to pessimism or cynicism!).
Other tidbits from Queendom’s research:
- 69% of optimists compared to 20% of pessimists try to find the good in even the most disagreeable people.
- 84% of optimists compared to 12% of pessimists try to find the silver lining in difficult situations.
- 11% of optimists compared to 82% of pessimists feel lonely – but despite this, only 23% of pessimists compared to 79% of optimists actively keep in touch with friends and family.
- 38% of optimists compared to 74% of pessimists keep their problems to themselves.
- 86% of optimists compared to 25% of pessimists refuse to give up no matter how tough life gets.
- 81% of optimists compared to 47% of pessimists believe that good lessons can be learned from failure.
- 8% of optimists compared to 51% of pessimists believe that there’s no point in maintaining friendships because nothing lasts forever.
- 8% of optimists compared to 65% of pessimists believe that some people are simply doomed to live an unhappy life, and cannot change this fate.
- 21% of optimists compared to 78% of pessimists believe that most people cannot be trusted.
- 78% of optimists compared to 26% of pessimists believe that if given the choice, most people would choose to do good rather than evil.
- 19% of optimists compared to 46% of pessimists believe that almost everyone lies on their tax returns.
So are you an optimist or a pessimist? Do you think there are advantages to both attitudes? Share your comments below!
Join me for next week’s discussion on self-esteem!