A large body of scientific research shows that your perspective affects your mental and physical health, how long you live, and how far you climb the career ladder. Some of us see the world as a glass half empty and others a glass half full. What about you? If you’re a card-carrying pessimist, chances are during these extraordinary economic times you’re having more difficulty seeing the upside of this downside situation. We can’t always change what happens to us, but we can always change our perspective. And your mental and physical health and career success—even your life might depend on it. If you don’t have this one mindset, no worries. You can cultivate it.
Science On Pessimism Shows Deadly Consequences
You don’t get the expected raise. Your boss constantly talks over you in meetings. A coworker steals your idea. After a while, you start to develop a pessimistic mindset about your job. You might even start to expect the worst as a matter of habit. The paradox is that if you have a career setback and allow your mind to over focus on the disappointment, it has a chicken-and-egg effect, and you can get caught in a negative mental cycle. Mounting research shows that pessimism can truncate your career, deteriorate your mental and physical health and even lead to early death.
Disgruntled workers have trouble looking on the bright side, working as a team player, thinking outside the box and finding solutions to problems because they get stuck on the problem. Business managers lack confidence in pessimists and don’t trust them to lead. Pessimists are shut out of top assignments and their careers are derailed because they get mired in tasks instead of surmounting them.
Pessimism has been identified as one of five types of toxic thought patterns that lead to an early demise. Nobel Prize scientist Elizabeth Blackburn and health psychologist Elissa Epel researched the destructive thoughts that damage your telomeres—the protective tips that reside at the end of chromosomes. They isolated pessimism as one of five toxic thought patterns that shorten the life span. It creates shorter telomeres which is an indicator of a truncated life span. People who are strongly pessimistic about the future are at greater risk of dying on average two years earlier than those who are not pessimists.
Science Shows 3 Reasons Optimism
The antidote to pessimism is optimism. And there are three huge advantages to taking an optimistic versus a pessimistic mindset at work and life in general.
- Longer life span. Recently, Harvard researchers found that optimism is linked to a longer lifespan, meaning that optimists are more likely to live beyond 85 years of age. Optimistic women are even more likely to live past 90 years of age, regardless of race. Other studies show that optimists are happier and live 11 and 15% longer than pessimists. They adopt healthier habits and relationships and have fewer health complaints than pessimists. Optimism leads to a lower stress level and a more stable cardiovascular system, plus a stronger immune system. Scientists believe this positive outlook accounts for a different biochemical response in optimists versus pessimists that contributes to longevity. When the mind focuses on the negative, the body shoots a toxic cocktail of adrenaline and cortisol into the circulatory system. If the mind focuses on positive aspects, the body sends a dose of more positive hormones into your system.
- An enlarged perspective of the world. A pessimistic mindset is myopic. It “zooms in” and clouds out the big picture. Scientists have shown that optimism literally expands peripheral vision, allowing us to “zoom out” and see the big picture. While expanding our perspective, optimism unlocks personal resources so we can see potential and opportunity embedded in a hardship. When our perspective narrows (like the zoom lens of a camera), we build up blind spots of negativity without realizing it. An enlarged perspective allows us to see the blind spots that our zoom lens clouds out.
- Greater career success. If you’re an optimist, you’re more likely to climb the career success ladder faster and farther than a pessimist. One study, for example, showed that sales personnel with an optimistic outlook sold 37% more life insurance in their first two years than pessimists. Why? When you ruminate and over-focus on the difficulty, what goes wrong, who hurt you or how disappointed you are, it constricts your career possibilities. A recent study by the National Bureau of Economic Research found that optimists have better job search outcomes than pessimists with similar skills. During the job search process, optimists spend less effort searching and are offered jobs more quickly. They are choosier and more likely to be promoted than others.
Practice Makes Perfect
You don’t have to be a natural-born optimist to cultivate a positive outlook. Optimists don’t possess some type of magical joy juice, and they’re not smiley-faced romantics looking through rose-colored glasses. They have developed the skill of knowing and believing in their capabilities, and they take positive steps to cope with job stressors and disappointments rather than succumbing to them. It takes practice for us to realize we can choose how we interpret career ups-and-downs. The key is to practice widening our mental scope and replace the “zoom lens” with a “wide-angle lens” so we can consider the big picture—the solution, not just the problem, the upside of a downside situation, opportunity in the difficulty and possibilities in career limitations—all of which allow us to surmount career obstacles and cultivate greater peace of mind.