Benefits of a Positive Mindset


Martin Seligman defines optimism as reacting to problems with a sense of confidence and high personal ability.

Specifically, optimistic people believe that negative events are temporary, limited in scope (instead of pervading every aspect of a person’s life), and manageable.

Pessimistic people tend to view problems as internal, unchangeable, and pervasive, whereas optimistic people are the opposite. 

Pessimism has been linked with depression, stress, and anxiety (Kamen & Seligman, 1987), whereas optimism has been shown to serve as a protective factor against depression, as well as a number of serious medical problems, including coronary heart disease (Tindle et al., 2009). 

Maruta, Colligan, Malinchoc, and Offord (2000) examined whether explanatory styles served as risk factors for early death.

With a large longitudinal sample collected in the mid-1960s, the researchers categorized medical patients as optimistic, mixed, or pessimistic. Optimism was operationalized using parts of the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory. The researchers found that for every 10 point increase in a person’s score on their optimism scale, the risk of early death decreased by 19%.

Furthermore, optimism has been found to correlate positively with life satisfaction and self-esteem (Lucas, Diener, & Suh, 1996). Segerstrom and Sephton (2010) also examined whether optimism predicted positive affect. Their hypothesis that changes in optimism would predict changes in positive affect was borne out, as increases in optimism were associated with increased positive affect, and vice versa.

Interestingly, changes in optimism were not related to changes in negative affect. Thus, it appears that optimism is uniquely related to positive affect. This means that optimists are generally happier with their lives than pessimists.

Optimists are also able to recover from disappointments more quickly by attending to positive outcomes to a greater extent than negative ones. Litt and colleagues (1992) examined optimism and pessimism in couples undergoing in-vitro fertilization (IVF) attempts. In this study, 41 women and their husbands were interviewed two weeks prior to the IVF attempt and two weeks after a subsequent pregnancy test. Among the women who received a negative pregnancy test, optimists were better able than pessimists to cope with failed fertilization attempts by endorsing thoughts like “this experience has made our relationship stronger”. Pessimists were more likely to develop depressive symptoms and to feel personally responsible for the failure of the IVF attempt. This study suggests that optimists are better able to cope with disappointment by attending to positive aspects of the setback.

However, optimism appears to protect against the worst of these effects, as optimism has been associated with less depression and greater well-being in studies of people caring for others with cancer (Given et al., 1993), Alzheimer’s (Hooker et al., 1992), and mental disorders (Singh et al., 2004).