Learned Optimism: The Benefits of Positive Thinking

Recent studies in psychology have demonstrated the many benefits of adopting a positive attitude in life. This phenomenon, known as learned optimism, is defined as the ability to maintain a positive outlook on life and to focus on the potential for success rather than potential failure. While optimism has traditionally been thought of as a personality trait, research shows that it can be learned, and that it can bring multiple benefits.

One of the major benefits of optimism is improved physical health. Studies have found that optimistic individuals tend to have lower levels of cortisol, a hormone associated with stress, and better immune system functioning (Froh, Kashdan, & Ozimkowski, 2013). Further, optimistic individuals are more likely to engage in health-promoting behaviors, such as exercise and healthy eating, than those with a more negative attitude (Seligman, 2006). In addition to its physical health benefits, optimism has been associated with better psychological well-being (Froh et al., 2013). Individuals who exhibit learned optimism tend to be more resilient in the face of adversity and more likely to cope effectively with life’s challenges (Seligman, 2006).

In addition to its mental and physical health benefits, optimism has been linked to better academic performance. Research has found that optimistic students are more likely to set higher goals, to persist in the face of adversity, and to have higher levels of academic achievement (Seligman, 2006). Optimism has also been associated with better job performance and higher wages (Froh et al., 2013).

Learned optimism is a skill that can be developed, even by individuals with a naturally pessimistic attitude. One of the most effective strategies for developing an optimistic outlook is to challenge negative thoughts by actively seeking out evidence that disproves them (Seligman, 2006). Additionally, individuals can learn to focus on the potential for success, rather than potential failure, by setting realistic goals and engaging in positive self-talk (Froh et al., 2013). With practice, individuals can learn to adopt an attitude of optimism and enjoy the many benefits it brings.

Froh, J. J., Kashdan, T. B., & Ozimkowski, K. M. (2013). Who benefits the most from a positive psychology intervention? The theory of psychological resilience. Journal of Positive Psychology, 8(2), 117-131.

Seligman, M. E. (2006). Learned optimism: How to change your mind and your life. New York, NY: Vintage Books.

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