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Research suggests that optimists do better in school, sports, sales, and
politics. For one study, published in 1988 in the Journal of Personality and
Social Psychology, researchers surveyed 99 men at age 25 and rated their
degree of optimism about life in general. Doctors then examined these men at
age 65 and found that the optimists had survived middle age in better
Pessimists tend to believe that bad times will last forever and that a
single mistake will affect all areas of their lives. As a result, they often
get depressed and give up too soon.
Yet optimism can get you in trouble, too, says Andrew Shatte, PhD, of
Adaptive Learning Systems in King of Prussia, Pa. Optimists tend to shift the
blame to others when things don't work out. They can also be aggressive and
impulsive, taking unnecessary risks.
"Neither extreme is healthy," says Shatte. The most effective people
combine the can-do enthusiasm of the optimist with the early warning system of
the pessimist. The trick is learning when and how to adjust your point of
Advice for the Perennial Optimist
You're good at motivating people and getting support for new ideas -- but
remember that being a cheerleader has its pitfalls.
You tend to minimize your challenges, so take time to listen to your
When you make a mistake, don't gloss over it. Stop and think how this
behavior could affect other areas of your life.
When things go wrong, you probably start finding fault with others.
Practice taking responsibility for your share of the problem. Above all, stop
finger-pointing or blaming people.
Advice for the Perennial Pessimist
You're good at analyzing problems and finding out what isn't going to work
-- but you will be paralyzed if you take this tack too far.
When something bad happens, don't automatically assume that it's your
fault. Make a list of other contributing factors.
Don't assume that one mistake is going to cost you everything -- or that
you can't recover.
Focus on the things that you can change -- and practice coming up with
Valerie Andrews has written for Vogue, Esquire, People,
Intuition, and HealthScout. She lives in Greenbrae, Calif.