Feature Archive

Living on the Sunny Side

Be Happy

WebMD Feature

Reviewed By Gary Vogin
Have you heard the joke about the optimist and the pessimist? The optimist says cheerfully, "This is the best of all possible worlds." And the pessimist says glumly, "I agree."

Which camp do you fall into? And how will this affect your chances of success?

Research suggests that optimists do better in school, sports, sales, and politics. For one study, published in 1988 in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, researchers surveyed 99 men at age 25 and rated their degree of optimism about life in general. Doctors then examined these men at age 65 and found that the optimists had survived middle age in better health.

Pessimists tend to believe that bad times will last forever and that a single mistake will affect all areas of their lives. As a result, they often get depressed and give up too soon.

Yet optimism can get you in trouble, too, says Andrew Shatte, PhD, of Adaptive Learning Systems in King of Prussia, Pa. Optimists tend to shift the blame to others when things don't work out. They can also be aggressive and impulsive, taking unnecessary risks.

"Neither extreme is healthy," says Shatte. The most effective people combine the can-do enthusiasm of the optimist with the early warning system of the pessimist. The trick is learning when and how to adjust your point of view.