Realists are significantly happier than both pessimists and optimists in the long-run, research reveals.
Pessimism and optimism are personality traits that lie at opposite ends of a spectrum.
Realists, meanwhile, sit halfway in between, occupying the middle ground.
Optimists may suffer in the long-term because they are often disappointed.
The regular disappointment can end up being a stronger emotion than the pleasure gained from anticipating positive outcomes.
The most optimistic people are 13.5 percent less happy than realists, the study found.
Around 80 percent of people are thought to be optimists.
The problem for pessimists is perhaps more obvious: they are constantly dreading the worst.
This dread can overtake any benefits gained from things turning out better than expected.
The most pessimistic people are 21.8 percent less happy than realists, the study also found.
Both optimists and pessimists make decisions based on biased false beliefs.
Dr Chris Dawson, study co-author, said:
“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.
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.”
The study included 1,601 people who were tracked for over 18 years.
They reported their life satisfaction and any psychological distress each year.
People were also asked about their finances and their tendency to over- or under-estimate them.
The results showed that realists were most satisfied with their lives (life satisfaction is a measure of overall happiness, in contrast to momentary pleasure).
In the age of COVID-19, realism can be an advantage, said Professor David de Meza, the study’s first author:
“Optimists will see themselves as less susceptible to the risk of Covid-19 than others and are therefore less likely to take appropriate precautionary measures.
Pessimists, on the other hand, may be tempted to never leave their houses or send their children to school again.
Neither strategy seems like a suitable recipe for well-being.
Realists take measured risks based on our scientific understanding of the disease.”
The study was published in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin (de Meza & Dawson, 2020).