The Cynic's Guide To Positive Thinking
The Cynic's Guide To Positive Thinking
Thinking positively. Seeing the good. Looking on the bright side. The louder the conversation around the pursuit of optimism, the more fluffy detractors claim it’s become. So what is worth picking out among the cutesy memes and sound bites – and can it actually make a difference to your life?
Charlotte Haigh

“Hopefulness and confidence about the future or success of something.” That’s the Oxford English Dictionary’s definition of optimism. Positivity, meanwhile, is the practice of having this sunny, constructive attitude as you move through life. Is your reaction to such words the sort of enthusiastic pep embodied by Elle Woods? Or do you need to suppress an eye-roll vigorous enough to risk retina strain? If it’s the latter, you’re not alone in your cynicism. And yet, those expressive glass-half-full types – the ones who’d be sorted into Hufflepuff and not kick off about it – may be having the last belly laugh. The try-hards. The keenos. The optimists.

In a study published last year, researchers found that optimistic people are more likely to lead lengthier lives, with a predicted lifespan up to 15 percent longer than the least optimistic among us and a higher chance of living to 85 and older. It follows research published in the British Medical Journal that found optimistic people are more likely to have better cardiovascular health, with scientists positing that this may be partly explained by a correlation between feeling positive and looking after your health. As for the impact of a hopeful outlook on your mental health, perhaps unsurprisingly, a review of research found optimists have a lower risk of depression, while pessimism makes you more susceptible to low mood.

SUNNY SIDE UP

Such findings are providing a firm scientific basis for a way of thinking that positive psychologists have been enthusing about (on brand, as ever) for decades. Positive psychology as we know it today began life in 1998, when Martin Seligman chose it as the theme for his term as president of the American Psychological Association. In doing so, he urged psychologists to shift their focus away from mental illness and towards mental health. By 2006, a course on positive psychology was the most popular class at Harvard University and the concept became a publisher’s dream.

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May 2020