Crossville Chronicle, Crossville, TN

April 1, 2013

THE GOOD LIFE: Can you learn optimism?

By Louise Gorenflo
Chronicle contributor

CROSSVILLE — Pessimists habitually explain the negative events in their lives in a way that makes them seem dire. They tend to blame themselves and assume that whatever went wrong will stay wrong — and bring everything else down with it.

Pessimists see positive events as flukes that are caused by things outside their control and probably won’t happen again. They expect a life filled with disappointments and are more likely to give up in the face of adversity.

Optimists believe in the overall goodness of life. If you are optimist, negative events are more likely to roll off your back, and positive events affirm your belief in your ability to make good things happen now and in the future. Conversely, optimists see negative events as not being their fault, often externalizing blame. They see misfortune as a fluke that has nothing to do with other areas of their lives or future events.

Researchers find that optimists live longer, have more well-being, experience less stress, have reduced risk of death from cardiovascular disease and even less colds. Having a more positive outlook reduces harmful health effects of stress on your body.

You can learn to be more optimistic and help others do the same. All it takes is the willingness and persistence to change how you react to arising experience. Here are some strategies you can use.

• Take Credit for Success — Recognize how you contributed to your good fortune by mobilizing the resources at hand to make something happen. Positive events are not just dependent on luck or solely the actions of others.

• Validate But Question — When you face difficult times, be in touch with your feelings (such as disappointment or anxiety), and then ask yourself questions that will help you see things more optimistically. Do something else you enjoy without indulging in self-blame or self-pity.

• Remember Success in the Face of Failure — When things go wrong, acknowledge your feelings, but also focus on successes you have had. Don’t dwell on how you messed up. Get on with your life by keeping your resolutions or improving your skill level so that you can do better next time.

• Look for the Bright Side — When things go wrong, don’t habitually make it seem like the worst thing that ever happened to you. Put things into perspective. Look honestly at your shortcomings so you can work on them and also focus on your strengths. Always remember that virtually any failure can be a learning experience and an important step toward your next success!

• Hang Out with Optimistic People — If you surround yourself with a bunch of pessimists, you’ll learn more pessimism. Seek out people who model the behavior you want. Let these people be your teachers. And don’t forget to thank them for their teachings. The same idea applies to what you view on the web or TV or read. Don’t reinforce a negative view of yourself and the world.

• Experience Success — Your capacity to interact joyfully with the world grows by experiencing the success of doing so, even in the face of challenges. Do things that you’ve wanted to do but felt that you would not do well. Who cares if you are not the best? The joy is in the doing.

May you find what I have reported interesting and something you can use in your life. I invite you to email me your reactions (lgorenflo@gmail.com).