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The Benefits of Optimism

​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​We are currently living in a very worrying time in our history. The media (news, social and printed) is full of negative stories and depressing thoughts. In my regular letters and emails to parents, I have remained optimistic and upbeat which has been greatly appreciated by them.

Life is not all doom and gloom and there are always many more positives than negatives. It is just that very often we take the positives for granted and focus on the negatives. Yet as individuals we can all play our part to help others feel better.

The most recent national example of this is Captain Tom Moore from Bedfordshire who walked around his garden 100 times to raise money for the NHS, and at the time of writing he has raised £27m (although his original target was £1,000) – a phenomenal achievement. There is going to be a Spitfire flypast over his home on Thursday 30th April to celebrate his birthday. Believe it or not, this has a Bethany connection as former pupil, Alex Monk, helped to organise it to salute Captain Moore’s fundraising efforts. Alex said “It will be a bit of a morale-booster for us all, really, to see a Spitfire in the sky. It’s been the symbol of freedom in the past and quite an icon for Tom. Tom, more than anyone, knows what a Spitfire means, and to hear and see a Spitfire in the air for himself will be a nice experience for him.”

Having a cheery disposition, just like Captain Moore clearly has, can influence more than just your mood.

Research tells us that people who are optimistic are more committed to their goals, are more successful in achieving their goals, are more satisfied with their lives, and have better mental and physical health when compared to more pessimistic people.

People tend to be optimistic by nature, and for those who are less so, the trick is to act like an optimistic person, even if we aren’t feeling particularly hopeful. If we think that the future can be positive, we are more willing to put in time and energy to make that come about. By being engaged and persistent (which incidentally are two of Bethany’s Virtues of Learning), even if we don’t feel particularly positive, the benefits of optimism, like satisfaction and health, will soon follow.
It has been said that an optimist sees a glass as being half full whereas a pessimist is someone who sees the same glass as half empty. I am an optimist by nature.

 

Here are 10 reasons which show why improving our optimism is a good idea:

1. Optimists feel healthier
There was a study undertaken which involved 150,000 people living in 142 countries. The outcome was that if we think the world is inherently good, and that life will work out in our favour, we are more likely to rate our own health and sense of well-being as better.

2. Optimists are healthier
A Harvard School of Public Health study found people who tend to look on the bright side have fewer heart problems, such as cardiovascular disease. They also have better cholesterol readings. In a separate survey of nearly 1,000 middle aged men and women, those who reported higher levels of optimism had lower levels of triglycerides, or less fat in the blood.

3. Optimists live longer
If we expect that we’ll live into old age, we increase our chances of actually doing so. An analysis of the health and hope of nearly 100,000 women by researchers at the University of Pittsburgh found that over an eight-year-period, optimists were less likely to die from all causes than cynics.

4. Optimists are better at fighting illness
Researchers studied the relationship between optimism and immune response in first-year law students throughout the school year. When a student was more optimistic they fought off infection more effectively than during the times when they were less hopeful.

5. Optimists experience less stress
Normally, optimists do not worry about little things. That was the finding in a study at Quebec’s Concordia University. Not only did optimists produce less cortisol (the stress hormone) during times of stress, they also didn’t experience as much perceived stress during stressful times.

6. Optimists form better relationships
Romantic relationships benefit from a sunny disposition: Optimists and their partners tend to be happier than pessimistic pairings. This theory was put to the test at the University of Oregon, where researchers found that this increased happiness held true regardless if both or just one partner were identified as optimists.

7. Optimists enjoy working more
People who see a glass that’s half full tend to rate their jobs as more satisfying than those who don’t. A study from Kuwait University found that people who were the most optimistic were also happiest in their jobs and had the fewest work complaints; the opposite was true for pessimists.

8. Optimists get more job offers and promotions
Duke University followed a group of MBA graduates as they entered the workforce. Those who believed good things would happen to them had an easier time finding jobs than those who had a less hopeful outlook. The same University study found that optimists in the workforce often have a reason to be happy on the job. They tend to earn higher starting salaries than pessimists and they also are promoted more frequently.

9. Optimists adapt better
I have often said that I am a firm believer that it is not what happens to us in our lives which is important but rather how we react to what happens to us in life. A study in Australia showed that students who were more optimistic about their transition to university life experienced less stress, anxiety, and uncertainty and had a more successful first year overall.

10. Optimists Make Better Athletes
Optimists don’t necessarily have more muscle mass or greater athletic ability than pessimists. But what they do have is hope. In a study co-authored by Martin Seligman, PhD, director of the Penn Positive Psychology Centre at the University of Pennsylvania, a group of swimmers was instructed to swim their hardest then were told a false time – one that added several seconds. The optimists used this negative feedback to fuel an even faster time on their next swim; the pessimists performed more poorly than before.

Therefore, being an optimist is better for our health, our well-being, our career, our life choices and our general demeanour as we journey through life.

As Headmaster of a wonderful School, such as Bethany, I do not think that I could function unless I was an optimist!

The current Covid-19 pandemic crisis will pass. The optimists will use this time to learn, grow and adapt. The pessimists will feel sorry for themselves.

An opportunity lost is an opportunity wasted. Life is wonderful and every day should be cherished. We should embrace life, hold onto hope and grab every opportunity that comes our way so that we can become the very best versions of ourselves.

Francie Healy – Headmaster