Optimism pays
Happier people get better jobs…and make more money.‘When you wake up every day you have two choices’ says best selling author and motivational speaker Harvey Mackay1. ‘You can either be positive or negative; an optimist or a pessimist. I choose to be an optimist. It's all a matter of perspective.’

hw_w12_3‘An optimist understands that life can be a bumpy road, but at least it is leading somewhere,’ he adds.  ‘They learn from mistakes and failures, and are not afraid to fail again.  It may not be your fault for being knocked down, but it is certainly your fault for not getting up.’

Amid challenging economic conditions since 2008, some battle-scarred businessmen could be excused for wavering from their usual optimistic stance. Yet signs are that the very best leaders still demonstrate a relentless and contagious positivity.

After a turbulent 2011 a Leadership Sentiment Barometer published last month by the global search firm Egon Zehnder2 revealed that most leaders surveyed (60%) remain optimistic about 2012. Interestingly results showed converging global perspectives where regional attitudes were remarkably similar. Of the 411 respondents, 64% of those from Asia Pacific were optimistic, 60% from Europe, and 57% of those from North America. This provides more evidence that today’s leaders live in a global village. Looking ahead, their top three  priorities for 2012 were result orientation (65%), customer focus (62%), and change leadership (59%). Innovation management (55%), talent management (36%), as well as diversity and inclusion (18%) figured too, but less so.  

Meanwhile leading academics suggest that we should not be surprised by a link between optimism and success. According to Adrian Furnham, Professor of Psychology at University College London, ‘happy people are more successful at work. Compared with unhappy people, but matched on other criteria such as education, experience, skills, we find that happier people get better jobs; have happier people working for them, show better job performance and make more money. These findings occur across different jobs and in different countries, from German businessmen to Malaysian farmers.’3

Likewise Mackay refers to a study at the University of Pennsylvania proving that optimists are more successful than equally talented pessimists in business, education, sports and politics.  Based on this research, Metropolitan Life, the insurance and financial services corporation, developed a test to distinguish between the optimists and pessimists when hiring sales people. Results showed that the optimists outsold the pessimists by 20 percent the first year and a phenomenal 50% in the second year.

So why is there a connection between positive moods, a sense of well-being and happiness and work success? Sunny optimists are generally stable extroverts, while doom and gloom merchants tend to be unstable introverts. There is not much one can do about one’s personality as people do not change much over time. Personality traits are remarkably stable despite what happens to us, whether winning the lottery or a terrible accident leaving us paralysed. However you can improve your emotional intelligence (EI). People with more EI are happier, more perceptive and sensitive to others, more rewarding and more fun; more adaptable and flexible. They find it easier to make friends and keep them, a crucial ingredient for happiness. About being aware and managing your own moods is a key ingredient of success. ‘

Apparently there are various reasons for this:
  • Unhappy people tend to be more self obsessed and less vigilant of the needs of colleagues and customers.
  • Happy people recall more positive things like happy customers and cooperative peers. The unhappy never let go of their negative experiences.
  • Optimistic people believe problems are solvable and that they can (with help) make good decisions. In contrast, pessimists are hapless, hopeless and helpless.
  • People in a good mood are more encouraging, forgiving, and tolerant. Negative moods are associated with blaming and attaching others rather than helping them.
  • People in a good mood tend to deflate crises and resolve conflicts.


‘Management is a contact sport. We can all, irrespective of our personality, learn to improve our social and interpersonal skills and in the process become emotionally intelligent.’

1. Your Business Attitude is a Choice. I Choose Optimism.Optimists outperform pessimists on the job by as much as 50 percent. Which do you choose to be? by Harvey Mackay | @HarveyMackay | Jan 13, 2012 .Harvey Mackay, author of The Mackay MBA of Selling in the Real World, is founder and chairman of the MackayMitchell Envelope Company. He has written six New York Times bestsellers, including the #1 Swim with the Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive. His website is www.harveymackay.com

2. Leadership Sentiment Barometer, What lies ahead in 2012?, Executive News Service, Optimistic Outlook for 2012. Issue 11 January 2012 www.egonzehnder.com

3. Adrian Furnham, The Sunday Times , 13 November 2011 http://www.thesundaytimes.co.uk/sto/public/Appointments/article819581.ece