Continuing … (refer to Part One, here) …
If pessimism can and should be challenged, is optimism the antidote? Yes … and no. Stating the obvious, it’s a high bar to expect someone of pessimistic disposition just to change up. (Although, Bob Newhart had a comic take on this, worth the viewing: see here.) And, perversely, a pessimist is likely to feel pretty pessimistic about his/her chances of attaining optimism!
Naïve optimism – pollyannarism – is unrealistic too, and can be damaging.
Optimism, though, let it be said, is an admirable and therefore desirable state to realise. If you can.
Well, if you always see the brighter side of things, there’s a chance that you’ll experience more positive events in your life than others, find yourself coping better, with lower stress levels, better physical health, and higher persistence when pursuing goals. You’ll see challenges or obstacles as opportunities to learn. You’ll feel gratitude for the good things in your life.
A passage on the Psychology Today website says that an optimistic disposition “helps protect against doubt and despair, which can make people feel like whatever they try is futile, and a negative outcome is already predetermined. Optimism gives them hope that they have some free will and that they have some power to change their circumstances for the better.” Even shaky optimism, poorly founded, can increase chances of success or happiness.
People who are more optimistic “tend to have better pain management, improved immune and cardiovascular function, and greater physical functioning … Optimists tend to look for meaning in adversity, which can make them more resilient. They are likely to see the causes of failure or negative experiences as temporary rather than permanent, specific rather than global, and external rather than internal.”
Such a perspective fosters hope, even in unhopeful circumstances.
Fair play, I’m labouring the benefits because it’s a thing worth doing, if I can only persuade so. It’s not an easy choice for everyone: there can be genetic and chemical and situational blockades to overcome.
But it can be, nevertheless, a choice.
So, if I’m going to labour this thing, I’d better set the table with some practics … some how-tos. Anyone can search for these online, but here’s some suggestions from the verywellmind website:
“Research suggests that genetics determine about 25% of your optimism levels, and environmental variables out of your control—such as your socioeconomic status—also play an important role. But this doesn’t mean that you can’t actively improve your attitude. There are things that you can do.”
- Become more mindful: Mindfulness is a focus on being engaged, attentive, and present in the here and now. It can be a useful technique to help you focus on what matters in the present and avoid worrying about future events and things that are outside of your control. If you’re living fully in the moment, you’re much less likely to ruminate over negative past experiences or worry about upcoming events. This allows you to feel more appreciative of what you have now and less consumed with regrets and anxieties.
- Practice gratitude: Gratitude is an appreciation for what is important in life. One study found that participants who were assigned to write a gratitude journal showed increased optimism and resilience. If you are trying to develop a more optimistic attitude, set aside a few minutes each day to jot down some of the things for which you are grateful.
- Write down your positive emotions: Research has shown that something as simple as writing down positive thoughts can help improve your optimism. One study found that expressive writing focused on positive emotions was linked to decreased mental distress and improved mental well-being.
- Cognitive restructuring: It is possible to develop ‘learned optimism’. Pessimists can essentially learn to be optimists by thinking about their reactions to adversity in a new way and consciously challenge negative self-talk. Using a practice called cognitive restructuring, you can help yourself become more optimistic by consciously challenging negative, self-limiting thinking and replacing it with more optimistic thought patterns. Here’s a summary:
- Identify the situations that are triggering negative thoughts or moods.
- Identify the actual negative thoughts that you are having in response to the situation.
- Consider the evidence that either supports or refutes your negative thoughts.
- Focus on the objective facts, and replace automatic negative thoughts with more positive, realistic ones.
This blog is already too long, and I haven’t even begun to unpack the Pollyanna Effect yet! Better hold off for the next exciting Part … Part Three. Unpacking Pollyanna!