The sentiment of hopefulness for the future or the accomplishment of a certain goal is known as optimism.
Optimism helps in strengthening resilience, it enables us to maintain our aspirations and goals in mind so that we can act on them to keep pursuing them. Those who are optimistic therefore have stronger self-esteem and a greater sense of control over their circumstances. The belief that a situation or event will result in the best possible outcome is known as optimism.
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Despite any difficulties they may be facing at the moment, optimistic people usually see the best in everything or everyone. The conviction that good things will occur and that people’s hopes or objectives will eventually be realized. Optimists are those who believe they will achieve their goals and who expect good things to happen, whether by chance or with hard work and persistence.
Delving into the Cognitive Mechanisms of Optimism
While explaining the cognitive nature of optimism, we’d like to bring attention to an important detail for the readers. Many of the studies conducted on the optimistic nature of human beings and its neural and cognitive basis have been conducted by contrasting this behaviour with its opposite — pessimism. Reading about the contrast between these two concepts helps us understand the cognitive mechanisms underlying both.
To begin with, researchers have tried to define pessimism and optimism not as dichotomous concepts but rather existing on a continuum. The world is full of possibilities for an optimist while on the other hand, for a pessimist the glass is always half empty, they focus only on the negative things in their surroundings. Below, we have discussed the cognitive mechanisms of optimism.
Selective Information processing
Selective processes are how individuals’ preexisting beliefs shape their use of information in a complex environment (Garett, 2015). This process is mainly unconscious and involves trimming and screening information so that it matches an individual’s existing belief.
To be simple: An optimist always sees his glass full. From the selective information processing perspective, the optimist only chooses those cues that reinforce his positive belief. Eye-tracking studies (Isaacowitz, 2015) reveal that when negative and positive images were presented to an optimist and a pessimist, the optimist gazed at negative/unpleasant images for less time as compared to a pessimist.
The Role of the Left Cerebral Hemisphere
It is also shown that the two cerebral hemispheres of the brain function in different ways when it comes to being receptive to cues from the environment. Studies have found that the left cerebral hemisphere is more likely to acclimatise to positive stimuli. A split visual-field study was conducted in which a participant was presented with pairs of positive and negative words. Attention shifted towards the field where the positive word was shown. (Kakolewski et al., 1999).
When researchers reversed the positive of the visual fields, it was found that the participant’s attention was equally attuned. Since the right visual field was processed at first, the findings of this study proved that the left cerebral hemisphere shifts one’s attention towards positive stimulus. The same was also true for auditory stimuli. Further research shows that the left hemisphere is involved not only when individuals adopt a positive mental attitude for a short period but also when they are an optimist, as a stable personality characteristic.
Positive Outcome Expectancy
People with optimism tend to have a positive outcome expectancy. Positive outcome expectancy refers to when an individual perceives that the likelihood of an action having a positive consequence is greater. optimism serves an adaptive function by enhancing This is largely due to optimistic attribution bias — the tendency to attribute an explanation for the behaviour based on character and not situational factors.
Optimists more often than not show this type of attribution bias. They tend to believe that positive outcomes are due to internal, stable and universal factors. At the same time, they believe that negative outcomes are temporary, due to external factors and only due to some specific causes.
Optimism and Risk-taking
Optimism serves as an adaptive function by increasing proactive behaviours and reducing stress and anxiety related to the possibility of the occurrence of negative outcomes (Scheier et al.,1989). Some studies explain optimism as a consequence or result of a cognitive underestimation of risk, in other words, individuals have a bias for themself.
The Role of Neurotransmitter
Optimism and stress are correlated. Optimism is known to reduce stress levels. We can understand how the brain functions when we compare the chemical activity that goes on in the brain in the context of pessimist and optimistic cognition. Firstly, pessimism is linked with the release of chemicals like cortisol in the brain. This cortisol release is controlled by the hypothalamus and is released in response to stress and fear. Conditions like depression, negative effects on memory, and low immunity are all linked to the increased level of cortisol.
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On the other hand, optimism is linked to an increase in the production of dopamine and serotonin. Both of these neurotransmitters are linked with inducing a happy feeling and promising a good mood. These neurotransmitters are also released when your brain tries to reward you and bring a feeling of satisfaction. Both optimism and pessimism have a major role in what outlook we have on the day. Optimism is not a fixed trait and can be nurtured. If utilised efficiently, we can use optimism for our benefit and live a healthier lifestyle as it is only linked with good psychological well-being.
Benefits of Optimism
1. Better Mental Health:
There is a link between optimism and improved mental health. In one research of college students, for instance, those who expressed greater optimism at the start of the semester reported feeling less disturbed by the conclusion of it. According to a different study, new mothers who had higher levels of optimism before giving birth had lower rates of post-partum depression. Higher optimism has also been linked to lower levels of depression in caregivers, according to research.
Why is mental health improved by optimism? It could, for example, make it easier for us to handle stressful situations. Researchers studying psychology have discovered that those with higher levels of optimism are more likely to employ approach coping, which is characterized by problem-solving and is seen to be a more adaptive coping mechanism. Conversely, those who are more pessimistic are more likely to employ avoidance coping, which is a coping strategy that is typically deemed to be less successful and entails denying or disengaging from the issue. Put another way, optimism may help with mental health since it enables us to deal with our issues in an adaptable manner rather than avoiding them.
2. Academic and Professional Achievement:
As optimism expert Charles Carver and his colleagues explain, optimism theories suggest that those who are more optimistic may be more “confident and persistent in the face of diverse life challenges (even when progress is difficult or slow).” Optimism helps us endure when things become bad. Research examining the long-term consequences for optimists indicates that this is, in fact, the case.
For instance, studies have indicated that hopeful students have a lower college dropout rate. In a different study, researchers assessed first-year law students’ optimism before their start of classes and then reassessed the students 10 years later. They discovered that the more upbeat students made more money in the long run. To put it another way, optimism may make someone more willing to stick with a difficult class or pursue a higher-paying career. People who prefer to presume positive things will regard bad things as fads rather than catastrophic tragedies, which encourages them to keep working hard.
3. Better Sleep:
According to a 2019 study, positivity may also improve our ability to sleep at night. Over 3,500 volunteers had their optimism and sleep quality evaluated by the researchers, who followed up with them five years later to see if anything had changed in terms of their sleep quality. Throughout the trial, the researchers discovered that those with higher levels of optimism reported experiencing better-quality sleep. Surprisingly, the researchers discovered that optimism appeared to be linked to individuals’ perceptions of their sleep quality rather than their actual sleep duration, as determined by a wrist-worn device.
Numerous advantages of sleep have been discovered by researchers, including enhanced creativity and memory. Enhancing sleep quality may even lessen anxiety. Put another way, increasing the quality of our sleep could be a contributing factor to the positive impacts of optimism on our bodies and minds.
4. Better Physical Health:
Research has indicated that optimism has a positive correlation with both our physical and psychological well-being. According to psychological theory, optimists may be more inclined to take precautions for their health because they have a higher level of confidence in the efficacy of their efforts to promote health. For instance, optimistic people may be more likely than pessimistic people to reduce their risk factors for a heart attack, according to a study. According to one study, throughout the investigation, pessimists had higher levels of atherosclerosis, a risk factor for heart disease, whereas optimists did not. A different study discovered a link between optimism and a decreased risk of high blood pressure.
5. Enhance Longevity:
You may be said to have longevity if you outlive the typical individual. To live a long life, aim for your maximum potential age. Healthy attitudes and habits can perhaps help achieve this. Maintaining a healthy diet and regular exercise can help you live a longer life. A few other things, such as overindulging in food and excessive alcohol consumption, may lower your chance of developing some illnesses. Many people believe that heredity has a major role in determining life expectancy.
A 2022 study that was published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society revealed that those who had higher levels of optimism had a greater chance of living longer, to the age of 90 and beyond. “We defined exceptional longevity as living past the age of 90.
6. Helps in Tackling Social Issues:
It’s simple to become disheartened when reading about issues in the news, from humanitarian catastrophes to global warming. Psychologists have discovered that when we hear about such big issues, we could turn away from them—especially if we don’t feel like we can make a difference. As a result, scientists are starting to look into whether optimism might assist fight against our propensity to get disengaged and motivate us to take up social issues.
According to a 2019 study published in the journal BioScience, optimism might be a key component in the human ability to solve environmental problems. They draw attention to the fact that many news stories on environmental concerns highlight the disastrous effects of destroying natural areas. Psychologists have discovered, however, that messages like these—which evoke feelings of worry and fear—don’t always succeed in getting people to act (particularly if, after reading, it’s unclear how someone might take action).
The authors contend that crafting messages that are more upbeat and imply that a brighter future is achievable is a preferable course of action. The authors contend that success stories—such as instances in which communities have worked together in the past to save natural areas—are essential for fostering a sense of efficacy, or the conviction that one can solve a problem successfully.
7. Controlling Stress:
Positive events are more consistent and common than negative ones, according to optimists. They believe that they can stop issues from occurring in their daily lives, hence they are better at handling difficult situations than pessimists. Because they regard stress as a challenge rather than a threat and because they employ constructive coping mechanisms like problem-solving, getting help, and reframing, optimists also tend to perform better under pressure.
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Having an optimistic mindset has a significant impact on one’s physical and mental well-being as well as one’s ability to navigate daily social and professional situations. Optimists outperform pessimists in adverse events and situations where major life goals are impeded by employing active coping strategies and adaptive management of personal goals and development. Optimism indirectly affects life quality through the use of particular coping mechanisms.
More Benefits of Optimism
- It makes us happier more of the time.
- It preserves our health and might lengthen our lives.
- We can accomplish more and persevere longer
- Reorganize our mentality
- Consider solutions rather than issues
- Exercise thankfulness
- Recognize and accept what we have no control over.
Why Be Optimistic – Final Word
“One can learn to be optimistic. Even if it’s not something you’re naturally good at, you can still learn how to think more positively. Numerous advantages may result from optimism, including improved mental and physical health as well as an increased ability to handle difficult situations. Additionally, optimism might play a critical role in encouraging us to confront difficult societal issues rather than avoid them.
Optimism seems to be generally good for people, while there are moments when pessimists might be able to gain from their way of thinking about events—for instance, when it pushes them to anticipate and prepare for unfavourable situations. Is there a way for pessimists to work toward cultivating optimism given the advantages of optimism? Psychologists say that they can: you can try to become more optimistic by examining your pessimistic views about the future and engaging in constructive thought exercises about how things could turn out well.