4 Benefits of Optimism That Improve Your Wellbeing

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Learned Optimism" by Martin E. P. Seligman. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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What are some of the best benefits of optimism? How do optimistic people think differently?

Psychologist Martin Seligman has studied the science behind optimism and pessimism to understand these mindsets better. According to him, learning to be optimistic does more than simply boost your mood.

Keep reading to find out the four important benefits of optimism that improve your wellbeing.

The Benefits of Optimism

According to Martin Seligman, optimists tend to generalize and personalize positive events, which is one benefit of optimism, in general. When something good happens, they think it’s because of their own abilities, or simply because good things always happen to them. Conversely, when something bad happens, they see it as a temporary setback due to external causes—they’ll say something like, “Things didn’t work out this time.” 

(Shortform note: According to Dweck, the opposite of a fixed mindset is a growth mindset. In simple terms, someone with a growth mindset believes that people can change; they can improve their skills and their attitudes in order to make positive changes in the world around them. A growth mindset goes hand-in-hand with optimism because someone with a growth mindset will see problems as temporary setbacks—challenges to overcome—instead of fixed and unchangeable truths about the world.)  

Aside from giving us a generally improved mood and outlook on life, Seligman says that the benefits of optimism include concrete improvements to your health and wellbeing, including:

#1: Reduced Stress

Pessimism is extremely stressful: We blame ourselves for problems and, at the same time, assume that there’s nothing we can do about them. Switching to a more optimistic mindset greatly reduces that burden. 

(Shortform note: Stress is known to cause health problems ranging from insomnia to heart disease. Reducing stress is one of the surest ways to live a longer and healthier life.)

#2: Stronger Friendships

Another benefit of optimism is that optimists are generally more pleasant to be around than pessimists. Furthermore, optimists are more likely to work at staying connected with people and keeping their friendships strong, while pessimists are more likely to lose touch with people and give up on maintaining those relationships.

(Shortform note: Studies have found that having three to five strong friendships is better for your mental health than splitting your time among a lot of acquaintances—in other words, when it comes to friendship, quality is more important than quantity. So, if you’ve got a few good friends, you should feel optimistic about your social life.)

#3: Higher Failure Resilience

Remember that optimists generally assume that things go badly because of temporary and external reasons. That mindset means they’re much more likely to try again after they fail, because they see their initial failure as just bad luck rather than some personal shortcoming.

(Shortform note: Even if you did fail because of a personal shortcoming, that very failure might give you the extra strength or knowledge that you need to succeed next time. Navy SEAL William H. McRaven illustrates this point in Make Your Bed: During SEAL training, McRaven consistently fell behind the other cadets in swimming, and he was punished for it with extra exercise. However, during his final test, McRaven finished first in swimming—his repeated failures, and the extra work that came with them, had made him the strongest swimmer in the group.) 

#4: Improved Performance in All Areas of Life

Pessimists aren’t likely to put forth their best effort. After all, if things aren’t going to go their way anyway, then why bother? Conversely, a benefit of optimism is that optimists will usually try their best—on the assumption that things will go their way—and perform better overall as a result, including in areas like sports, school, work, and so on.

(Shortform note: This increased performance helps optimists achieve a better work-life balance. Optimists are also better at achieving work-life balance because they don’t tend to spend their free time dwelling on past mistakes or dreading the coming workday. Therefore, an optimist can fully enjoy his or her free time, then return to work feeling rested and fulfilled.)

4 Benefits of Optimism That Improve Your Wellbeing

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Here's what you'll find in our full Learned Optimism summary:

  • How to break out of a pessimistic, powerless mindset
  • How to develop a mindset of empowerment, optimism, and confidence
  • How to balance your optimism with realism

Emily Kitazawa

Emily found her love of reading and writing at a young age, learning to enjoy these activities thanks to being taught them by her mom—Goodnight Moon will forever be a favorite. As a young adult, Emily graduated with her English degree, specializing in Creative Writing and TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language), from the University of Central Florida. She later earned her master’s degree in Higher Education from Pennsylvania State University. Emily loves reading fiction, especially modern Japanese, historical, crime, and philosophical fiction. Her personal writing is inspired by observations of people and nature.

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