According to the American Psychological Association, 12% of millennials have an officially diagnosed anxiety disorder. Other studies have found that 30 percent of working millennials are classified with general anxiety, and a 2014 American College Health Association (ACHA) assessment found that 61 percent of college students experience frequent anxiety. With such staggering numbers, millennials undoubtedly experience a great deal of stress, and subsequently, difficulty properly managing it.
An antidote to anxiety and stress is cultivating an optimistic mindset, and it serves us well over the course of our careers. In findings from a study published by Harvard Business Review, researchers discovered that when it comes to money, optimists are more likely to make savvy financial moves and reap the benefits.
They surveyed more than 2,000 Americans, testing for optimism, financial wellbeing, and behaviours around money. Even after accounting for differences in demographics to level the playing field, the data clearly showed that optimists were significantly more likely to experience better financial health than pessimists, and engage in healthier habits with their money. The Harvard study found that 90% of optimists have put money aside for a major purchase, compared to 70% of pessimists. Nearly two thirds of optimists have started an emergency fund, while less than half of pessimists have. Additionally, optimists are more likely to seek out and follow advice from someone they trust. Perhaps the most compelling findings demonstrated that optimists report feeling stressed about finances 145 fewer days each year as compared to pessimists.
An antidote to anxiety and stress is cultivating an optimistic mindset, and it serves us well over the course of our careers.
Optimism is a lucrative investment beyond one’s finances. Optimists do better over the course of their careers as well. They make more money and are more likely to be promoted. Achor and I developed a scientifically-validated optimism scale to test professionals at hundreds of companies across industries, and we found that “Visionary Work Optimists” — those that are in the top quartile for optimism as compared to their peers — are 40% more likely to get a promotion over the next year, not to mention six times more likely to be highly engaged at work, and five times less likely to burnout than pessimists.
Another study by Dr. Martin Seligman from the University of Pennsylvania found that optimistic sales professionals outsell their pessimistic counterparts by 56%. As a result of this study done at MetLife, the insurance giant changed its hiring practices to include a screening for optimism, which improved retention and saved the company tens of millions of dollars.
Critically, optimism does not mean ignoring reality. Optimism can be defined as the expectation of good things happening, and the belief that our behaviour creates change, especially in the face of challenges. A rational optimist is able to see reality for what it is, while maintaining the belief that their actions can change the situation. This solution-focused mindset propels positive action. Rational pessimists also see what’s really happening; they just don’t believe there is much they can do about it. For pessimists, circumstances overwhelm. For optimists, mindset wins.
Here are some ideas for how you can create an optimistic mindset:
Focus on what’s working: Start the day by practicing gratitude. Instead of grabbing your phone first thing to check Instagram, start your day by listing three things you’re grateful for, and why. It can be as simple as gratitude for your dog, your heath and meeting up with friends.
Seek progress, not perfection: Start before you are ready. Perfect is the enemy of the great. Just getting started and celebrate all your small wins along the way. The momentum of starting carries you through towards achieving that goal.
Meaningfully connect with others: Send a quick text each day to someone new and different, thanking them. This habit is my all-time favorite, because these notes often brighten the day of family members, colleagues, or friends, but they are also good for you. Your brain starts to more deeply recognize all the people who care about you. Social connection and community is the greatest predictor of an individual’s happiness.