For Your Long-term Well-being Force Yourself to Think Positive, Right?

We all know about the power of positive thinking. If you think positive thoughts, you will be healthier and happier. We all agree about that, right? Don’t we?

Maybe not.

An article in the journal Personality & Social Psychology Bulletin suggests something different.

In a new study, researchers from the University of Bath and London School of Economics and Political Science studied people’s financial expectations in life and compared them to actual outcomes over an 18-year period. They found that when it comes to the happiness stakes, overestimating outcomes was associated with lower well-being than setting realistic expectations. These findings suggest that the benefits of making decisions based on accurate, unbiased assessments outweigh making decisions based on positive thinking.

Basically, the theory behind the “power of positive thinking” strategy is that optimistic thinking becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy; If you think and believe you will be a success, that helps to deliver success – not to mention happiness.

The study in the United Kingdom tracked 1,600 individuals annually over 18 years. To investigate whether optimists, pessimists or realists have the highest long-term well-being the researchers measured self-reported life satisfaction and psychological distress. In addition, they measured participants’ finances and their tendency to have over- or underestimated them.

“Plans based on inaccurate beliefs make for poor decisions and are bound to deliver worse outcomes than would rational, realistic beliefs, leading to lower well-being for both optimists and pessimists. Particularly prone to this are decisions on employment, savings and any choice involving risk and uncertainty,” said Dr. Chris Dawson, associate professor in business economics in Bath’s School of Management.

Dr. Dawson went on to say, “I think for many people, research that shows you don’t have to spend your days striving to think positively might come as a relief. We see that being realistic about your future and making sound decisions based on evidence can bring a sense of well-being, without having to immerse yourself in relentless positivity.”

While neither a totally optimistic or an absolutely negative strategy seems likely to lead to success and well-being, Professor David de Maza, of the London School of Economic, suggests that realistic thinking is best. “Neither strategy seems like a suitable recipe for well-being,” de Meza said. Realists take measured risks based on evidence and hard facts; not on biased thinking and unrealistic expectations.

To see the sources for this article, see here and here.

Written by Jame Windell, MA

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