When things go badly, the optimist is likely to respond with a reference to forces outside her control, “our competitors got lucky this time!”
When things go well, the pessimist is likely to respond in a similar way, “I got lucky this time!”
In both situations the person is making a call to destiny.
The optimist believes that things will go well as a matter of course, and so any setbacks are explained away as temporary bad luck.
The pessimist seems to believe the opposite; every situation presents the realistic possibility of failure and defeat. And when things go well, the pessimist is just thankful for the good fortune she enjoyed this time around.
The literature on positive psychology is totally in favour of the optimist, and with good reason. By explaining away defeat, the research has shown that a person will be much more resilient, which means they will be more likely to try again next time.
Resilience is important because it can help people to achieve their goals, and to avoid depression.
The problem with this blind support for the optimist though is that it ignores the value of intellectual honesty.
Sometimes you will have bad luck, and it is obviously fine to say so.
However, sometimes you will catch a lucky break, and in these instances claiming that your success is caused by your god-given brilliance may simply be dishonest, distasteful or downright obnoxious.
The winds can change.
Seneca, the Roman Stoic philosopher, is quoted as saying that “if one does not know to which port one is sailing, no wind is favorable.”
Good luck will feel wonderful and bad luck will feel horrible, but both can be equally unfavourable if you have no ultimate destination in mind.
You might have heard Behavioural Economists talk about “outcome bias”, which means judging a decision based on the outcome (good or bad?) rather than the quality of the decision at the time it was made.
In life, as in business, we should assess the quality of our decisions by whether they stand a reasonable chance of bringing us closer to our goals.
Which port are you sailing to?