Does Positivity Lead to Success?

August 26, 2022

Can positivity make you successful?

Stanford University did a study that examined the impact of positive thinking on students’ learning abilities. They found that “the hippocampus, a brain area linked with memory and learning, was significantly more active in kids with a positive attitude.”

So is there more to positive thinking than we realize?

Let’s be honest. Life is ugly at times, and it isn’t all flowers and rainbows, so why pretend it’s not? It’s much more beneficial to be a realist, right?

As it turns out, positive thinking is overwhelmingly influential when it comes to succeeding in your career and in life. Check out these studies:

Psychologist Michael F. Scheier, who has researched and published papers on the power of optimism as far back as 1985, said:

“I think it’s now safe to say that optimism is clearly associated with better psychological health, as seen through lower levels of depressed mood, anxiety, and general distress, when facing difficult life circumstances, including situations involving recovery from illness and disease.”

A researcher named Martin Seligman studied insurance salespeople and found that “optimistic salespeople sold 37% more policies than pessimists, who were twice as likely to leave the company during their first year of employment.”

Economists at the University of Warwick found that happiness led to a 12% spike in productivity.

Other research found that people who engaged positively and provided social support — people who picked up the slack for others, invited coworkers to lunch, and organized office activities — were not only 10 times more likely to be engaged at work than those who kept to themselves; they were 40% more likely to get a promotion.

To explain why optimists are better at business than pessimists, I think Scheier summed it up best when he said:

“We know why optimists do better than pessimists (…) they’re problem solvers who try to improve the situation.”

But positive thinking seems to have more benefits than just in the work environment:

Researchers from Dartmouth and the University of Michigan found that “pessimists’ health deteriorated far more rapidly as they aged.”

Researchers from the Universities of Kentucky and Louisville conducted tests that found that when injected with a virus, optimists actually had a “significantly stronger immune response” than pessimists.

Okay, that’s a lot of data. But is it possible for someone who defaults to negative thinking to become naturally optimistic? Here are a few ways to keep you from being negative:

1. Gratitude. It’s really difficult to be negative when you consistently direct your thoughts to things to be grateful for. No matter who you are or where you are in life, you have something to be grateful for. Get in the habit of reflecting regularly on these things and keeping them front-of-mind.

2. Create space. When you’re in a situation and you start to feel negativity creeping in, delay your reaction for a moment or two. Breathe. Nod your head, smile, whatever it takes to buy time, just don’t speak immediately. Your initial reaction will almost certainly be negative until you train your brain to think differently, so just let it pass.

3. Once you’ve paused to let the initial reaction pass, imagine what a positive response would sound like in this situation. You don’t need to say it immediately, just get comfortable with the idea of thinking positively. Once you get into the habit of acknowledging a healthy response, you’re one step closer to choosing a healthier response.

4. Consider what negativity would accomplish. Allow yourself to address a negative thought and then discard it. When you feel like negativity is a plague to stay away from, your mind seems to be more attracted to it. It becomes the guilty pleasure you can’t have until you finally give in, then you’re an up-and-down mess. Truthfully, you’re probably not going to be able to push negativity completely out of your mind, so simply practice becoming aware of it. Face it head on then ask yourself, “If I say what I’m thinking, what would be the result? What would it accomplish? Would anyone be better for it? Would it in any way whatsoever help this situation?” If the answer is no, then let it go. You’ll thank yourself for this later (see research above).

The better thing to do, and what successful people tend to do, is find perspective and go into problem-solving mode. You’re frustrated? Great. Take it out on the problem instead of complaining about it. You’ll be infinitely better off for it, and people will actually enjoy being around you.

And since resources and opportunities come from people, then the more people like being around you, the more resources and opportunities will come your way. You’re not manipulating to achieve that result, but it is a nice bi-product.

The bottom line is this: If you’ve convinced yourself that being a “realist” is okay, and that poking holes in every idea or situation you come across is somehow a good thing, or that losing your cool in tough situations is normal or “understandable,” think again. You’re only hurting yourself, both in your career and in life. Because, as it turns out, whether we like it or not, positivity actually does lead to success.

Posted by Mike P. Taylor

Mike P. Taylor is an author, speaker, and consultant who helps people understand God's goodness in a fresh way. He's the author of the book Grounded Faith for Practical People and he writes at mikeptaylor.com where he helps people rethink religion for a new generation. He lives in Nashville, TN with his wife Sydney and their four kids.