What exactly is optimism? The following explanation was published in an article in Psychology Today: “To many psychologists, optimism reflects the belief that the outcomes of events or experiences will generally be positive. Others contend that optimism is more an explanatory style; it resides in the way people explain the causes of events. Optimists 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 enables optimists to more easily see the possibility of change.”
They have a can-do, positive attitude to life and make the most of whatever opportunities may come their way. They go through life with the sense that things will work out and that they will be OK no matter what happens. They try new things, they learn new skills, they take risks and live life with enthusiasm. They spend little time dwelling on the past or worrying about the future. They live in the moment and experience gratitude and joy easily.
I believe that this is largely about the choices we make – and these are all important choices.
- Albert Einstein once said “The most important decision we can make is whether this is a friendly or hostile universe. From that one decision all others spring.” Choosing to see our world as a safe place is the basis for all other decisions.
- The expectation that things will most probably work out is another key choice – there are no “facts” in an expectation, so we either choose to expect a positive outcome or we choose to expect a negative outcome.
- Choosing to see the causes of negative events and experiences as
- temporary rather than permanent (“this too shall pass”);
- external rather than internal (this is a function of something that is happening in my world rather than being a function of something that is about me);
- specific to this person or the current circumstances rather than as general in relation to human nature or the world.
We choose what to believe – our beliefs are not a given.
Some people are “natural” optimists – it is as if they decided very young that the world is a safe place. As a result they have a can-do, positive attitude to life and make the most of whatever opportunities may come their way. They go through life with the sense that things will work out and that they will be OK no matter what happens. They try new things, they learn new skills, they take risks and live life with enthusiasm. They spend little time dwelling on the past or worrying about the future. They live in the moment and experience gratitude and joy easily.
It is a way of looking at the world that gives the optimist more agency than the pessimist. They feel at least partly responsible for the quality of their own lives and for how things turn out. They have a healthier outlook on life and live longer than pessimists. They also have better outcomes when they experience illness and other negative experiences. This is not to say that they have the unrealistic belief that they will only have good experiences in life – which can actually cause its own problems!
Self-awareness is always the key to personal growth, so ask yourself these questions:
- Do you generally see the glass as half empty or half full?
- Do you look for the “difficulty in every opportunity or the opportunity in every difficulty” (Churchill)?
- Do you often experience a sense of impending doom or do you generally expect that things will work out?
- Do you tend to try and keep things like they’ve always been or do you try new things, put yourself out there for new experiences, learn new skills and live life with enthusiasm?
- Do you spend more time than you should regretting the past or worrying about the future or do you mostly live in the present moment and experience joy and gratitude often?
If an honest consideration of these questions shows that you tend to be an optimist, then you have a good chance of riding out life’s difficulties. You will find the opportunities. You will allow yourself to experience the joys. You will experience life’s adventures with enthusiasm. You will deal with life’s setbacks and be ok.
If, on the other hand, you recognise that you are the opposite, then what can you do to change it?
Call to Action
Firstly, accept that there is work to do and that it will take personal honesty and effort.
Then, I think, there are 3 ways to do the work:
- Do the work on your own using a process to guide you. Understand that it will take work and that you will need to be consistent – but know that it is worth the effort. Here are some examples:
- Spend some time working with a therapist. If the first suggestion is just not working for you and you find yourself constantly returning to a state of pessimism, perhaps you need someone to help you find your way to a more optimistic state of mind. Perhaps you are depressed and need to treat that first.
- Find a coach who can work with your typical ways of seeing and responding to the world, and help you to find alternatives that are more hopeful and optimistic. You could email me on firstname.lastname@example.org and we can discuss your coaching programme.