Is Optimism Really Good for You?

Choose to be optimistic.  It feels better.

– Dalai Lama XIV

This is the first in a series of blogs on Positive Psychology and how it supports our work in coaching Social + Emotional Intelligence.

Last Spring, I had the wonderful good fortune to take a class* from the late Dr. Chris Peterson.  Chris was one of the founding fathers of Positive Psychology and a scholar and researcher with a long-standing interest in optimism (as well as health, character, and well-being).

Sadly, for all of us who studied with him, and for all the world, Chris passed away unexpectedly last October.  He was an inspiration to me and to many others in the world of Positive Psychology.  He taught me to strive to seek the positives in life, to “pursue the good life,”  to scientifically study what goes right in life, and to always remember that “other people matter.”  He is so missed, and one of my primary goals in teaching a new course (starting next week) on Using Positive Psychology in Coaching Social + Emotional Intelligence is to pass along some of the many lessons Chris taught me.

Today, we will touch on some of his work related to optimism.  Prior to Chris Peterson’s research, optimism had developed something of a bad rap (believe it or not).  People equated optimism with Pollyanna, and the annoying Dr. Pangloss from Voltaire’s Candide  (i.e., foolish, stupid, unrealistic optimism).

Positive Psychology is based, above all, on science, and Chris Peterson turned his attention to the scientific study of optimism.   In fact, studies of optimism preceded and helped usher in the field of Positive Psychology, which is why we will start here.

An enormous amount of empirical research over the decades (Peterson’s and others) has demonstrated that optimism is good for us.  Among the benefits, optimism can lead to:

  • Better health, bolstered immunity
  • More satisfying relationships (both friendships and intimate relationships)
  • Greater success in work, school and sports
  • Less stress
  • Lower cholesterol, lower blood pressure
  • Increased longevity (longer life)
  • Greater happiness
  • Enhanced resilience and coping skills
  • Greater productivity and motivation
  • More patience
  • Enhanced physiological and psychological well-being
  • More effective problem-solving
  • Greater self-confidence and positive self-regard
  • Improved social life and bonding between individuals
  • Greater focus
  • Improved communication and self-expression
  • Enhanced mental flexibility and creativity

Optimism and other positive emotions have a positive impact on virtually every bodily function and organ in the human body, including the brain, the heart, the vascular and immune systems, the hormonal system and on detoxification.

An optimistic expectation leads us to the belief that goals can be achieved.  Positive expectations can be self-fulfilling.  So how can we set optimistic expectations, both for ourselves and in support of our clients?  This will be the subject of a future blog post and will also be explored in our upcoming class (starting next week!) Using Positive Psychology to Coach Social + Emotional Intelligence. 

In this advanced class, we will be covering dozens of Positive Psychology exercises and interventions (related to optimism and many other topics that can add significant value to our practice of coaching social and emotional intelligence).  To register, click here

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*While I have taken several courses in Positive Psychology over the past few years, I had the good fortune to take the Positive Psychology class with Dr. Chris Peterson through MentorCoach, LLC, a coach training school based out of Bethesda, Maryland.  Their foundational coaching training program is based on the principles of integrating evidence-based coaching and the science of Positive Psychology.  For anyone seeking an ICF-accredited program for your foundational coaching training, I highly recommend MentorCoach.  For information, contact Dr. Ben Dean at www.MentorCoach.com.

One Response to “Is Optimism Really Good for You?”

  • Hi, Laura,

    As a certified graduate of Mentor Coach and also your terrific ISEI program, I am thrilled you let everyone know how the synthesis and interactivity of these two courses exponentially help coaches and other business people soar.

    I also love that optimism helps counter negativism. We all hit the low notes of negativity, but how we react and re-frame it with positivity is what counts.

    Sometimes when I am blue and am reacting with hurt or disappointment, I ask myself, “What is the good here? What is the learning? How can I use this in my coaching to help a client? Which one of my SEI and character strengths might I harness to nix the negativity?”

    Sometimes it takes a meta-view of perspective and time and new upbeat experiences to balance the BS! But I KNOW I will overcome and HOPE always looms on the horizon if I look for it.

    GREAT blog and deep gratitude to you and Dr. Ben Dean, Mentor Coach founder.

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