5 Unbelievable Facts About Optimists

Happy couple kissing
Optimists have higher quality and longer-lasting romantic relationships. Danil Nevsky/Stocksy United

Optimism isn’t about being oblivious to the bad stuff. That’s denial. Optimism defines how we interpret and think about ourselves and the world around us. It's about:

  • knowing how much control you have in a situation
  • expecting a good outcome when you take steps to control what you can

It’s probably not a surprise that optimistic thinkers tend to be happier than pessimistic thinkers. But there are other benefits to being optimist. Here are five that may surprise you.

1. Optimists Live Longer

Research has consistently linked optimism and overall health and longevity. Optimistic thinkers have lower rates of hypertension, heart disease, and even risk of cancer, as well as lower rates of mortality in general. These health factors may be influenced by optimists’ focus on taking care of themselves. Optimists tend to exercise more, sleep better, eat healthier, and refrain from smoking (but it's not certain whether optimism drives these behaviors, or vice versa).

One large study published in 2019 determined that optimists have a life span 11% to 15% longer than average, and are more likely to live to age 85 or older. Optimists lived longer even independent of variables like socioeconomic status, health conditions, depression, social integration, and healthy behaviors.

When given a poor but manageable health prognosis, pessimists are more likely to become fatalistic and see only an inevitable death sentence. Optimists recognize the severity of their condition, but are more likely to take steps to cope with it.

2. Optimists Have Better Love Lives

Optimists have higher quality and longer-lasting romantic relationships, according to researchers from Stanford University. And, perhaps surprisingly, these results hold when only one partner is an optimist. Psychologists believe optimism leads to a greater sense of perceived support from a partner, which helps couples fight fair. When asked about a point of contention in the relationship, both optimistic thinkers and their partners were more likely to say that the other partner was invested in making the relationship better, leading to greater conflict resolution.

Other research shows that the more we idealize our partners, the happier we are in our relationships. Another study demonstrated that part of what makes romantic relationships positive and happy is cooperative problem-solving linked to optimism. Optimists can also help their partners be more healthy and become more optimistic.

3. Optimists Are More Successful

Just as optimists tend to be more resilient outside of the workplace, they are also resilient on the job. Even if their bosses don't recognize that they're doing a good job, optimists are able to bounce back and keep performing well. People who are more optimistic also seem to have better job security than less optimistic workers, a 2019 study found. This improved security can even lead to increased optimism.

Plus, people who feel optimistic about their careers are more likely to both succeed at work and to feel satisfied with their jobs. There are a number of possible reasons for this, including that optimists are seen as being more charismatic, are more likely to persist until their goal is achieved, and find it easier to shake off a bad outcome so that it doesn’t affect them in their next attempt. Optimistic managers may be more effective at helping others to be productive and to achieve their goals.

4. Optimists Take Fewer Sick Days

People with higher levels of subjective well-being—a mindset that can include optimism—have stronger immune systems and even experience faster wound healing than others with lower levels of well-being. In a 2017 study that helped promote psychological well-being by teaching older people how to "identify and savor positive experiences," participants lowered their rates of depression, physical symptoms, and sleep complaints in just eight weeks.

Optimists get sick less often and get better more quickly.

5. Optimists Bounce Back Faster and Stronger

In a famous study of elite college varsity swim teams (published back in 1990), coaches told athletes to swim their best event. After the races, coaches provided false feedback about the results, adding a couple seconds. This difference was small enough be believable but large enough to cause disappointment in the swimmers.

They were then given a half hour to rest—and presumably, ruminate about the failure they just experienced—and then repeat the event. On their second attempt, pessimistic thinkers swam on average 1.6% slower than their first attempt. The optimistic thinkers, however, swam 0.5% faster than previously. In the competitive world of swimming, the difference between the optimists and pessimists was the difference between winning and losing an event.

Optimists, as it turns out, might actually use failure as fuel to perform even better in the future. More recent research on high-level athletes (in this case, wrestlers) shows that optimism helps protect them against burnout.

A Word From Verywell

As much of this research shows, optimism can be learned. If you're not already blessed with it, you can work to develop it. And then you too can enjoy the many benefits that optimism brings.

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