The Remarkable Power of Optimism

by | Jun 30, 2023

In a post from the archive, Martin Seligman tells a remarkable story about optimism.In the mid-1980s, 120 men from San Francisco had their first heart attacks.Members of this group were part of a special research study, and much was known about their medical condition.For example, metrics such as the extent of damage to the heart, blood pressure, cholesterol, body mass, and lifestyle—all the traditional risk factors for cardiovascular disease–were documented.In addition, the men were interviewed about their personal lives, families, jobs, and hobbies.After each interview, statements from the dialogue were coded for their optimism and pessimism. The coded results were placed in sealed envelopes for future reference.Within eight and a half years, just over half the men had died of second heart attacks.Surprisingly, none of the usual risk factors predicted death–not blood pressure, not cholesterol, not even how extensive the damage was from the first heart attack.The researchers then opened-up the sealed envelopes.Of the 16 most pessimistic men, 15 had died. Of the 16 most optimistic men, only 5 died. As we wrap up Q2 and head into a holiday weekend, it’s an appropriate time to check your mindset. Are you an optimistic person?Is your office or team made up of optimistic individuals?Do you seek to bring optimistic agents into your organization?If you find yourself struggling with this issue, you may want to pick up a copy of Dr. Seligman’s classic book on this topic.Optimism is critical to your personal well-being and your trajectory as a leader.And according to Dr. Seligman, it can be learned.


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