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  • Writer's pictureKerry Scott-Gillett

Is optimism always a good thing?

Updated: Feb 18, 2023

We probably all know them - those happy-go-lucky, glass-completely-full individuals who always seem to have a positive outlook on life and who expect that things will turn out for the best, even in the most challenging of times. However, while optimism can be beneficial to our wellbeing, research suggests that it can also have a dark side...

Although a certain level of optimism is clearly a good thing - with research suggesting that it can lead to happier, healthier and longer lives - having overly optimistic views of our circumstances may not always serve us that well.


In a study published earlier this year, researchers David de Meza and Chris Dawson discovered that people who have unrealistically positive expectations of future events experience significantly lower life satisfaction compared to those with more realistic views - in fact, study findings showed that excessively positive individuals endured nearly 12% more psychological distress, whilst their sense of general wellbeing was reduced by almost 14%.


Whilst you may be feeling smug if you are generally inclined towards more negative views, it is also important to note that findings for people with overly pessimistic expectations were even more pronounced. Individuals in this category were more likely to suffer from over a third more psychological distress than those with realistic expectations, whilst their sense of general wellbeing was reduced by over a fifth. This suggests that whilst overly optimistic expectations can be detrimental to our wellbeing, having excessively pessimistic views has an even more negative impact.


Although the study could not offer a clear explanation for these findings, the authors suggest that overly optimistic people always believe that things will turn out well and are therefore disappointed when outcomes do not meet these expectations. Conversely, people who have overly pessimistic expectations believe that things will turn out badly and consequently experience high levels of anxiety and distress in advance of outcomes that haven't yet materialised.


It is important to note that this study was limited in that it only considered peoples' perceptions of outcomes in terms of financial expectations. Therefore more research is needed to investigate whether these findings remain true in relation to peoples' expectation of outcomes in other areas. However, if there is a moral to this story, it is that, like most things in life, it is important to strike a balance and perceive outcomes through a more realistic lens, rather than veer towards overly positive or negative extremes.


To find out how we can support you to move forward realistically in testing times, please get in touch.



 

References


De Meza, D. and Dawson, C. (2020) 'Neither an Optimist Nor a Pessimist Be: Mistaken Expectations Lower Well-Being'. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, pp. 1-11 [online]. DOI: 10.1177/0146167220934577 (accessed 2nd October 2020).

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