Feature Archive

Accentuating a Positive Attitude

Can pessimists learn to see the glass half full?

By Susan Kuchinskas
WebMD Medical News

Reviewed By Patricia A. Farrell, PhD

Danny Worrel paid in advance to have a load of firewood delivered. It was a handshake deal, but as the guy drove off, Worrel, a 57-year-old building engineer in Coupeville, Wash., said, "I just lost $150." He was sure the woodsman would take off with the cash and never deliver. (Of course, the firewood promptly arrived.)

This pessimistic outlook is typical of the 50% of Americans who assume things are always getting worse.

Pessimists habitually explain the events in their lives in a way that makes them seem dire. They tend to blame themselves, while assuming that whatever went wrong will stay wrong—and bring everything else down with it.

Optimists, on the other hand, seem to approach life in a way that pays off. They're more resilient in the face of disaster or tragedy and are happier with their lives in general. But it's not all in their heads. They are generally healthier, have stronger hearts, and tend to live longer. They're even more resistant to colds.

One reason is because optimists learn to cope well and make connections with others who help and support, says Barbara Fredrickson, head of the Positive Emotions and Psychophysiology Lab at the University of North Carolina. "You're better equipped to deal with the difficulties in life because, in the good moments, you've accrued more skills and resources," she explains.