If you ask 100 folks if their glass is half full or half empty,
meaning optimistic verses pessimistic, 99 will give you a positive answer. It is an instinct, part of our originally programming.

Research over seventy-five years indicates our language, memory,
and analysis (thinking) are selectively positive. In both speaking and writing we use three-times as many positive, optimistic ideas as negative, pessimistic words.

It’s in our genes: studies of healthy people show a positive bias toward the future, their own progress, and good times. Even in the wake of adversity, defeat and rejection, a positive denial is associated with well-being.

Optimism is a Denial of Reality

If we focus our attention on our surroundings we see a dangerous reality. Illness, death, and financial catastrophes are common, and we realistically know our own life is filled with potential pitfalls as we age.

If we concentrated on the dangers of crossing the street, we will stay frozen in bed.


Bi-polar disorder, experienced by up to 40% of our population within their lifetimes, is characterized by a negative view of ourselves, our experiences and a future dictated by our pessimism and hopelessness.

Many psychologists believe Homo sapiens are programmed to resist change in how we think, even when it is harmful. We are in protection of our ego and want to remain in the status quo, our comfort zone, homeostasis (equilibrium), even when it hurts.

How realistic (provable) is our belief in an afterlife or the foundations of the major religions? It requires optimism and a selective denial of reality to believe, yet we do it.


Good psychological functioning: our perception of reality is considered mentally healthy when what we see corresponds to what is actually out there. Reality testing indicates that only the most minimal human expectations about the future turn out to be true.

Research consistently shows we evaluate ourselves as above average, and others as below the norm; we are positive and the world is negative. It is part of our programming to continuously update (revise) and make up stories (fabricate) about our personal history. It is normal and human to take credit for success and deny our responsibility for failures, defeats and rejections.

Illusion or Delusion

Optimism is a necessary illusion to maintain civilization. If we focus on death and dying we lose focus, motivation and the ability to change our circumstances. A delusion is not responsive (an illusion is) to a realty check. We buy life insurance because we know death is a certainty even though the date is uncertain.

Optimism and illusions are created by our Limbic System, the site of our emotions. All major decisions in life are cleared through our limbic system before offered to our left-hemisphere of logic and reason for confirmation. Emotions create our motivation to act to improve our circumstances. Reasoning has a veto power over radical emotional decision making.


Optimism is linked to persistence and determination. Why didn’t you quit trying to learn to drive a car when you failed in the beginning? If you are like me, you fell a dozen times and ended up bleeding from knee scrapes learning to ride a
bike. Why didn’t you quit trying?

Typing on your word processor? Surfing the Internet? They all took persistence in the face of failure, and a powerful tolerance for frustration. The winners stayed optimistic and went on to succeed, the losers?

Goggle: The Future of Illusion, S. Freud, 1928;

Optimism And Cardiovascular Death

A Fifteen Year Study

Wageningen University, the Netherlands, in a research project lead by Dr. Rick J. Gitay, tracking over one thousand patients for fifteen years:

Between 1991 and 2001, of the 466 men and 475 women in the Delfland Psychiatric Center in Netherlands, 397 died. The researchers concluded these deaths were directly related to the patient’s self-reported pessimistic outlook on their lives.

The participants ranged from ages 65 to 85.

Google: November 2004 issue of Archives of General Psychiatry.

“We found that the trait of optimism was an important long-term determinant of all-cause and cardiovascular mortality it elderly subjects. We took in consideration sociodemographic characteristics and cardiovascular factors.

A predisposition toward optimism seemed to provide a survival benefit in elderly subjects with relatively short life expectancies otherwise.


Those folks who look on the bright side of life are more likely to live considerably longer than pessimists

Death rate in the studied group from all causes was 55% lower for
those with a more optimistic outlook compared to pessimists. And the risks of dying from heart disease were all most 25% reduced.

More. The happiest men cut their risk of dying from any cause by
almost two-thirds, twice as much as women.


Can you put a fake smile on your puss? Pay attention, this single strategy can add up to a decade to your longevity. If you will stop for one-minute, three-times daily, and create a Duchenne Smile (Google it) on your face, you will improve
your life expectancy.

N.B. Smile with the muscles of your EYES, in addition to your mouth muscles.

Try it now. Do you need a better reason to do a make-belief smile than adding healthy years to your life? If you create this new ritual of devoting three-minutes a day to really smiling for no damn reason, you will feel healthier, and given the
proviso you do not crash into a Mack truck, live years longer.

Dr. Martin Seligman, University of Pennsylvania said, “Optimists will try to avoid and escape bad events.” It may seem like a delusional ritual, but it is really a realistic illusion paying vast dividends. You must have continuing purposes and meaning to your life, or you lose the drive to survice.

Mae West, a 1930’s sexy actress said, “I used to be Snow White. I drifted.” We must never permit ourselves to drift from being an active optimist.

Ask us how you can own the competitive edge in school and career by reading and remembering three-books, articles and reports, in the time your peers can hardly finish one. It’s important to your mental health and longevity.

See ya,

copyright © 2008
H. Bernard Wechsler

Author's Bio: 

Author of Speed Reading For Professionals, published by Barron's. Business partner of Evelyn Wood, creator of speed reading, graduating 2 million, including the White House staffs of four U.S. Presidents.