Optimism: An Introduction
Optimism is an attitude characterized by hopefulness and confidence in a successful or favorable outcome for a specific endeavor or future.
Research shows that optimism is linked with good outcomes, like higher life expectancy, better recovery rates, and success at work.
There’s a famous saying by Winston Churchill where he defines an optimist and pessimist aptly. It goes like this “An optimist sees an opportunity in every calamity; a pessimist sees a calamity in every opportunity.”
Optimists expect good things to happen. They look at the positive side of everything.
A classic example is a glass filled halfway with water. An optimist would say the glass is half-full, while the pessimist would say the glass is half-empty.
Impact of Optimism on Mental and Physical Well-Being
- Optimistic people are found to have reduced levels of stress. Positive thinking can not only help manage stress but also improve overall health.
- A study done in the US found that optimistic people tend to have a longer lifespan and higher odds of achieving exceptional longevity.
- Optimists are found to maintain their physical health better when compared to pessimists. They also have a lower risk of cardiovascular diseases and a greater survival rate when fighting cancer.
- Optimism is also found to benefit sports teams. Optimistic swimmers performed better and were also found to be more likely to perform well in future competitions compared to those who were pessimistic.
- Patients with depression or mood disorders can benefit from cognitive behavioral therapy that encourages them to have a positive outlook.
Is Optimism Genetics? The OXTR Gene
Research shows that a combination of genetics and environmental factors affects optimism levels.
People with certain genetic types are more likely to be optimistic and may exhibit characteristics such as being happy and content, quick to forgive, less stressed, grateful, and altruistic.
The OXTR Gene
The OXTR gene carries instructions for the production of the oxytocin receptor protein.
This protein acts as a receptor to oxytocin and binds to it.
Oxytocin is a hormone and a neurotransmitter that transmits signals between neurons.
This hormone plays a role in female reproductive functions.
It also impacts social functions and emotions such as bonding behavior, empathy, trust, and optimism.
rs53576 is a Single Nucleotide Polymorphism or SNP in the OXTR gene.
Carriers of the A allele were found to have a higher risk for negative mood states.
Non-Genetic Factors That Influence Optimism
Your tendency to look at the positive side of things can also stem from certain non-genetic factors.
As you grow older, your experience also increases, which may lead you to a more positive outlook on life.
Children brought up in a moderately controlled family environment tend to be more optimistic than children who were allowed to be less independent.
The socioeconomic status of the family also affects optimism levels.
When You’re Too Optimistic
Optimism has several positive physical and mental health benefits. However, in certain cases, being extremely optimistic can be detrimental.
- People may underestimate the risk of experiencing bad things and overestimate the likelihood of experiencing favorable outcomes. This is called optimism bias. Such people tend to engage in risky behaviors or experiments more often.
- Having an overly optimistic outlook on life may prevent a person from understanding negative emotions and bad experiences that others go through. This is referred to as toxic positivity.
So, having a healthy level of optimism and a realistic and positive approach to life is more beneficial.
Recommendations For An Optimistic Outlook On Life
- Write down your positive emotions and indulge in positive self-talk. This can help improve your optimism and self-belief.
- Remember to be grateful for what you have. You can maintain a gratitude journal to track what you’re grateful for. Appreciating what’s important in your life increases optimism and resilience.
- Focus on what matters, and don’t dwell too much on the future and things out of your control. Being more mindful and aware can help improve your focus and optimism levels.
- Spend some time for yourself to think about what you want to do and achieve. Identify situations that will make you more optimistic and work towards creating those situations.
- Don’t focus too much on the negative things in life. If you have had a bad day, try to look at a few of the good things that happened during the day. You can even consider this day as an opportunity to learn and improve yourself for the better.
- Talk to people around you about optimism, increase the use of positive language while engaging in conversations, and surround yourself with people who encourage optimism.
- Optimism is an attitude reflected by the hope or belief that outcomes of various endeavors will be positive and favorable.
- Optimism may significantly influence mental and physical well-being by promoting a healthy lifestyle and better cognitive responses.
- However, being too optimistic can result in a person overlooking a situation's potential risks and threats.
- Researchers believe the genetic basis for optimism could be rooted in the hormone oxytocin, also called the love hormone.
- Certain variants of the OXTR gene that produces the oxytocin receptor are associated with increased optimism.
- Optimism can also be influenced by the family environment, socioeconomic status, age, and mental health.
- Writing down positive thoughts and surrounding yourself with optimistic people can help you boost your optimism.