Is Pessimism Bad for Your Health?

Posted on Sep 2, 2008 in Uncategorized

Q: I’m a lifelong pessimist and proud of it, but my girlfriend says it’s bad for my health. Is there any truth to that?

A: You bet. Pessimists believe they cause bad events, that one mistake breeds another, and that these mistakes will spill over into all aspects of their lives. Even worse, they see successes as chance occurrences. Pessimistic people are more likely to have chronic disease and to become depressed: they can even die earlier, according to classic work by noted American psychologist Martin Seligman, who has been studying the effects of pessimism for more that a quarter of a century. He believes pessimism is a learned trait that is intrinsically related to depression. On the upside, both can be thwarted by changing your beliefs and learning how to gain power over negative situations. Seligman says that simply learning that one can control his reaction to events makes for a happier life. A more recent study, which was published in an American Psychological Association journal, found that optimistic individuals took fewer sick days after major life events, such as the death of a family member, than more pessimistic folk; that is, optimistic people seem better able to roll with the punches. Pessimism also hurts relationships by causing constant fault-finding and nit-picking. If you’re trying to turn the corner, start by reading Seligman’s Learned Optimism or my book The Biology of Success, which teach how to change belief systems in ways that allow for more constructive personal habits. You may also consider therapy. Cognitive therapy is the most beneficial type, and your girlfriend or wife will love it. Why? Because it teaches you to be responsible for how you feel so you can’t blame her. It will also show you how to stop listening to negative thoughts by noticing when you’re being too hard on yourself and when to give yourself positive counterarguments instead.

– from “Ask DR. BOB”, Dr. Bob Arnot, Men’s Journal Magazine, Sept. 2008