Optimism and Hope
People can be differentiated to the extent that they have different expectancies about the achievement of their goals, and other future events. Optimists have a generalized sense of confidence about the future, characterized by their broad expectancy that outcomes are likely to be positive. Pessimists, on the other hand, have a generalized sense of doubt and hesitancy, characterized by their anticipation of negative outcomes. So is it better to be an optimist or a pessimist?
Why it is good to be an optimist
Positive psychology research has found many advantages of adopting an optimistic viewpoint. Here are some of them:
- Optimists experience less distress than pessimists when dealing with difficulties in their lives. For example, they suffer much less anxiety and depression.
- Optimists adapt better to negative events (including coronary artery bypass surgery, breast cancer) abortion, bone marrow transplantation and AIDS).
- Optimism protects new mothers against developing depression following the birth of their baby.
- Optimism is conducive to problem-focused coping, humour, making plans, positive reframing (putting the situation in the best possible light) and, when the situation is uncontrollable, accepting the reality of the situation. Optimists are capable of learning lessons from negative situations. Thus optimists have a coping advantage over pessimists.
- Perhaps surprisingly, optimists don’t tend to use denial, whereas pessimists often attempt to distance themselves from the problem. Optimists are not simply people who stick their heads in the sand and ignore threats to their well-being. For example, they attend to health warnings and usually discover potentially serious problems earlier rather than later.
- Optimists exert more continuous effort and tend not to give up, possibly assuming that the situation can be handled successfully in way or another. Pessimists, on the other hand, are far more likely to anticipate disaster – and, as a result, are more likely to up.
- Optimists report more health-promoting behaviours (like eating a healthy diet or having regular medical check-ups) and enjoy better physical health than pessimists.
- Optimists seem to be more productive in the workplace (Robbins al., 1991: Carver & Scheier, 2002).
Can optimism be learnt?
Quite simply- Yes. Although there may well be a genetically inherited component to optimism, and early childhood experiences certainly shape our optimistic-pessimistic viewpoint, we can use several strategies to counter pessimism.
The first of these is a disputing strategy, introduced by Martin Seligman (1991) in his bestseller Learned Optimism. We usually employ the skill of internal disputing when we are falsely accused of something by of internal disputing when we are falsely accused of something by another person. We think to ourselves, for example: That’s not right its him who is not listening, it’s not me. I always listen before reaching a conclusion. However, when we falsely accuse ourselves of something (e.g. nor being capable of dealing with a difficult situation), we don’t tend to dispute it. The key to success is careful monitoring and recognition, of our thoughts. Once a negative thought is detected, we can consciously dispute that thought and try to look at possible alternative outcomes.
Changing and monitoring your explanatory style is another useful strategy. Explanatory style refers to the way in which we explain the causes and influences of previous positive and negative events.
A pessimistic explanatory style means we use internal, stable and global explanations for bad events, and external, unstable and specific explanations for good ones. People who use this style tend to appraise bad events in terms of personal failure.
An optimistic explanatory style, on the other hand, is characterized by external (leaving one’s self-esteem intact), unstable and specific (depending on circumstances) explanations for bad events, and by the opposite pattern for good ones.
Kleiman, E. M., Chiara, A. M., Liu, R. T., Jager-Hyman, S. G., Choi, J. Y., & Alloy, L. B. (2017). Optimism and well-being: a prospective multi-method and multi-dimensional examination of optimism as a resilience factor following the occurrence of stressful life events. Cognition & Emotion,