Why does winning the lottery not make people happy? In the 1970s, researchers followed people who’d won the lottery and found that a year afterward, they were no happier than people who hadn’t. This is called hedonic adaptation, which suggests that we each have a “baseline” of happiness to which we return. No matter what events occur, good or bad, the effect on our happiness is temporary, and happiness tends to quickly revert to the baseline level. Some people have a higher baseline happiness level than others, and that is due in part to genetics, but it’s also largely influenced by how you think.
- There is power in intentions, having a purpose: Positive thinking is an important component of self-esteem and overall life satisfaction. Optimism also tends to make your personal and work relationships better.
- Optimism is more than just positive expectations. It’s a way of interpreting everything that happens to you. Pessimism tends to explain the world in global, unchangeable, internal terms: “Everything sucks,” “I can’t do anything to change this,” “It’s all my fault.” Developing an optimistic outlook means thinking about yourself and your world in limited, flexible terms.
- For example, a pessimistic outlook might say, “I’m terrible at math. I’m going to fail that test tomorrow. I might as well just watch TV.” This statement suggests that your math skills are inherent and unchangeable, rather than a skill you can develop with work. Such an outlook could lead you to study less because you feel like there’s no point to it — you’re just an inherently bad mathematics student. This isn’t helpful.
- An optimistic outlook would say something like “I’m concerned about doing well on that test tomorrow, but I’m going to study as well as I can and do my best.” Optimism doesn’t deny the reality of challenges, but it interprets how you approach them differently.
- “Blind optimism” isn’t any healthier than pessimism. To go skydiving on your own without any preparation or training because you’re optimistic about your abilities is obviously a bad idea that could lead you to injury. True optimism acknowledges the reality of situations and equips you to face them.
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