Optimism, Success and the Pursuit of Happiness

Those who know anything about our family know how much we admired and respected Zig Ziglar.  His message of hope, inspiration and positive mental attitude changed our lives.  Having first heard Zig’s audio recording entitled “Biscuits, Fleas and Pump Handles” when I was merely 13-years old, my outlook on life was altered. Which, in looking back, was a tremendous blessing.

Throughout my teens and early twenties, the optimistic outlook that Mr. Ziglar’s message inspired in me helped me overcome some negative, pessimistic and gloomy expectations that I had about life.  I recall one example Ziglar shared in an audio recording of a young boy being caught dipping his finger into the molasses barrel in front of a general story.  He was warned that the next time he was caught doing that, things weren’t going to go so well for him.  Of course, the next came, and the store keeper took the boy up by the heals and lowered him head first into the molasses barrel.  As his head was dipping into the gooey molasses he was overhead praying, “God please give me the mouth to meet this opportunity.”  Winston Churchill famously denoted,

  • “A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.”

Maurta, Colligan, Malinchoc and Offord performed a large longitudinal study on samples collected in the 1960’s to discover if optimism or pessimism affects a person’s health.  40-years later they had their results and what they discovered is phenomenal.

  • “For every 10-point increase in a person’s optimism score, the risk of early death decreased by 19%.”[i]

Putting that in perspective, to what we know about smoking, which increases the risk of early death a factor of 5-10%, optimism really does make a difference.

Interestingly, optimists are also more likely to solve problems when faced with difficulties, recover from disappointment faster and tend to cope better when faced with a setback than pessimists do.

Martin Seligman, University of Pennsylvania, has shown, in-disputably, that optimism is the major factor to becoming successful, and is more important than aptitude by a whopping 57%![ii]  And this demonstrates the importance of attitude, just as Zig Ziglar expounded upon years ago when he stated that it is your,

  • “Attitude, not your aptitude, that will determine your altitude.”

The fact is, some people tend to be more optimistic than others and because of their attitude they experience better health, more success and deeper happiness than those who are more pessimistic.  But the big question is, can a pessimist become more optimistic and in so doing improve their overall health, success and happiness?

Of course, that depends. It depends on what you desire, and what you decide, determine or choose to do about your desire. It depends on how disciplined you are to follow through on what is necessary to make your desire become a reality.

Some acquaintances of ours, when we shared Zig Ziglar’s recordings with them, responded by saying, “That guy is just way too optimistic!” And so, their desire, determination and discipline never allowed them to benefit from the transformation that comes when you realize that your “Attitude, not your aptitude, will determine your altitude.” But for others, there is hope.

Amy Przeworski, Ph.D. specializes in anxiety disorders in children, adolescents and adults and teaches at Western Reserve University.  Dr. Przeworski has demonstrated that there are certain things that can transform you from being a pessimist into being an optimist and they are definitely worth learning.

  1. Notice your negativity. If you don’t realize you are being negative you can’t change your behavior.
  2. When you find you are saying something negative, say something positive, even if you don’t feel like it.
  3. If you have a negative thought, write it down and then write down the evidence that contradicts that negative thought.
  4. Look for the positive in all situations.
  5. Provide positive feedback to others, even when you don’t feel like it.
  6. Learn to say thank you and mean it. Don’t discount a compliment you receive by saying something like, “anyone could have done it.”
  7. Observe someone you admire who has a positive outlook and try to emulate them.[iii]

Of course, being optimistic won’t allow you to accomplish everything you want in life, but one thing is for sure, an optimistic outlook will allow you to accomplish much more than a pessimistic outlook will. And the price that is paid for supporting a pessimistic outlook, whether it’s inferior health, fewer successes or unhappiness simply isn’t worth it.

Working with thousands of people with their finances and money management, it is quite evident that attitude really does affect outcome.  Some people are fearful of what might happen in the future.  Others are worried that they will lose money if they make a decision or choice.  Others believe that they might do better following somebody else’s desire, not their own.  And some become so analytic that they fail to take any action.  Regardless of what pessimism these people cling to, it is always those who jettison their pessimism and gratefully adopt an optimistic perspective who succeed and find the success and happiness they were looking for.

Satisfaction, or the state of becoming sated, can become an excuse or pessimistic perspective on life.  As we know, it is a person’s hunger or thirst that drives them forward.  So, when we humans become satisfied, pessimism sneaks in and begins to destroy our potential.  Our potential health, our potential success, our potential happiness or potentially all three of these.  Contentment, on the other hand, is the optimistic outlook on life. Contentment is what gives you the ability to expand your health, increase your success, and reach greater heights of happiness.  Contentment is a direct outcome of being grateful.[iv] Grateful for who you are, what you have, where your current circumstances find you and how you can still aspire to even greater things. Cicero was right when he composed these words,

  • “Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all the others.”

Feelings of gratitude are associated with less frequent negative emotions. Gratitude promotes feelings of being energized, alert, enthusiastic and optimistic.  Muscle tension is relaxed when recalling moments of feeling grateful and grateful people are more agreeable and less narcissist compared to less grateful people.[v]

Want to experience more success and happiness in life?  Swap out your pessimism and practice being more grateful, find the strength that come with contentment and focus on becoming more optimistic.   You have nothing to lose and everything to gain. Besides, wealth isn’t just how much money you have to manage, it begins and ends with how happy you are after all your money is gone.  And clearly, being content, grateful and optimistic can make your days more fulfilling than if you remain pessimistic, negative and grumpy.

[i] https://www.metroscreenworks.com/retractable-screen-doors-1/

[ii] https://www.forbes.com/sites/jimkeenan/2015/12/05/the-proven-predictor-of-sales-success-few-are-using/#41580f364ede

[iii] https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/dont-worry-mom/201204/becoming-optimist

[iv] http://www.pursuit-of-happiness.org/science-of-happiness/positive-thinking/

[v] Ibid