Why Choose Optimism?
Nims was confident that every living creature liked him as much as he liked them. I remember seeing him in a gentle nose to nose greeting with a wild deer. His encounter with the goats was not as gentle. When he attempted to visit the new kids their mother Jessie expressed her opinion of four-legged visitors by lowering her head and tossing Nims several yards away from her kids. Nims righted himself and with a smile on his face was clearly saying, “Oh, I’m sure she didn’t mean it. She likes me.”
Nims’ optimism fascinated me because I tended to be a pessimist and had recently learned that optimists have greater well-being than pessimists.
Consider this research from the Mayo clinic.
- Decreases stress
- Helps us resist catching the common cold
- Reduces risk of coronary heart disease
- Eases breathing to help with some respiratory diseases
- Increases coping skills
- Increases mental functioning
- Increases longevity
Or consider these findings from various other studies:
- Optimistic sales people sell 35% more than pessimistic ones.
- Brain damaged children develop more brain function if their care givers are optimists.
- Optimistic students and athletes outperform pessimistic ones.
- Optimism is more correlated with success than talent or motivation.
Mayo Clinic studies and other research groups do not paint a pretty picture for pessimists.
Pessimists have an increased risk for:
- Sleeping problems
- Obsessive-compulsive behavior
- Impaired social functioning
- Poor mental functioning
- Shorter life span.
And add to that:
Pessimists have a lower rate of success in many areas of life from sports to sales to care giving.
In one way God has hardwired us for hope. That is what keeps us getting up in the morning.
But in another way we are built with a negativity bias. Our thoughts tend to drift to the dark side of life. Many of us live with a pervasive pessimistic tone to our lives.
That said: here is the good news for all of us who tend to be pessimistic.
Optimism can be a learned skill.
A stanch pessimist can learn to be a wise optimist.
For the past several years I have worked to become more like my optimist Nims. This has been a major game changer for me. I took my first step towards change when I realized that becoming more optimistic was a reasonable and authentic way to view the world. And that a general tone of optimism was much better way to live my life.
Then I had to be willing to pay the price of giving-up pessimism.
Pessimism has it’s perks. It claims to be smarter than optimism and it is definitely easier than optimism.
I began my pessimistic world view and self-talk when I was quite young and I had it down to an art. World view only changes with intention.
But when I took just one intentional step towards optimism the pay-off was instant.
The method I used to become more optimistic was presented in the work of Martin Seligman.
If you are a reader you can check out his Authentic Happiness.
If you want to join me in increasing optimism here are
2 Steps Forward into Greater Optimism
Step 1 Decide to become more optimist knowing that you will have to pay the price of giving-up some (not all) of your pessimism.
Step 2 Pay attention to your self talk and the 3 P’s . Personal, Pervasive, Permanent
- When something adverse happens consider ways you can say:
“It’s not all my fault (Personal).
It can be fixed (Permanent).
It will only effect one area of my life (Pervasive).”
- When something positive happens say:
“What part did I have in making this good happen (Personal )?
Good things are going to keep coming my way (Permanent).
This will spread good into many parts of my life. (Pervasive).”
More details on using the 3 P’s in Sculpting Project What Went Well and Why: Week 2.
And we know that God causes all things to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to His purpose. (Romans 8:28)