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Are you a "glass half-full" or a "glass half-empty" kind of person?
As it turns out, some people can be both. So-called realistic optimists combine the positive outlook of optimists with the clear-eyed perspective of pessimists, new research has found.
These realistic optimists may get the best of both worlds, using their realism to perform better at work and elsewhere, but aren't getting bogged down by unhappiness, said Sophia Chou, an organizational psychology researcher at National Taiwan University, who presented her findings at a meeting of the American Psychological Association in Honolulu, Hawaii earlier this month.
Optimists and Pessimists
Past research has shown that optimists value thoughts that make them feel good about themselves, whereas pessimists prize a more truthful vision of themselves. But a clear-eyed view can be bad for pessimists' well-being, as they tend to be more prone to depression, Chou said. Optimists tend to live longer and be healthier overall.
After several years working in business, Chou noticed there were some people who were both optimistic and realistic, and that they tended to be very successful. She wondered whether realism and optimism were really diametrically opposed.
So Chou administered a battery of personality surveys to about 200 college and graduate students in Taiwan. The surveys tested how many "positive illusions" the students held, as well as whether they were more motivated by self-enhancement or reality.
The optimists sorted into two camps: the realists and the idealists.
"Realistic optimists tend to choose accuracy over self-enhancement; the unrealistic optimists tend to choose self-enhancement," Chou said.
Interestingly, the realistic optimists also got better grades, on average, than their less grounded peers — probably because they didn't delude themselves into thinking they would do well without studying or working hard, Chou said.
Traditionally, a more realistic outlook is paired with poorer well-being and greater depression, yet the realistic optimists managed to be happy.
To understand why, she dug deeper into the personality assessments.