Are You an Optimist?

What do you think? Is the glass half-empty or half-full? Do you usually anticipate the worst or more often think that things will turn out okay? The way you answer those simple questions can give you insight into whether you are more naturally a pessimist or optimist. Once you see what your natural tendency is, consider the impact it has on your life. In particular, which view of life do you think makes you more attractive and enjoyable to other people?

We all know certain types of people we prefer not to spend a lot of time with. For me, it’s the person who possesses a pessimistic attitude. You know the type; they look like they just ate a lemon and every time you come up with a new idea they give you five reasons for why it won’t work. If you say it’s a beautiful day, they say, “Yeah, but it won’t stay this way.”

I much prefer to be around positive, optimistic people – those individuals who tend to find the good in others and believe that problems are opportunities in disguise. But the advantages of being optimistic go beyond popularity. We know from research that optimistic people tend to live longer, have fewer illnesses, have stronger and more satisfying relationships and are less likely to grow discouraged in the face of adversity. That proves that your attitude has a huge impact on your health and well-being.

Furthermore, in a large-scale longitudinal study, Dr. Martin Seligman discovered that optimistic politicians win more elections, optimistic students get better grades, optimistic athletes win more contests and optimistic salespeople make more money. In other words, optimism is a major factor in your likelihood of success in your career.

Many people believe that a person’s level of optimism is directly related to their personality type or temperament, so they’re just born that way. To a point, there is some truth in that, but if you realize your natural response to situations tends to be negative – if you see the problems much more easily than the solutions – don’t despair. You aren’t automatically doomed to a life of loneliness and failure. Optimism can be learned because it is a cognitive skill.

Changing the way you think is not always easy, but it is relatively simple. It is an exercise in Self-Talk, where you counter the negative thoughts with positive alternatives. When something bad happens tell yourself that it won’t last long, then look to see what isn’t negatively affected (what went right). Also, resist the urge to engage in self-blame. Pessimistic people are often tempted to believe that things will always go wrong because they never do anything right. This is unproductive, unhealthy and untrue, and can lead to the very problem we started with: most people don’t want to be invited to a pity party and will avoid a chronically negative person.

So, when good things happen tell yourself that its effects are likely to be long-lasting and focus on how things will improve and how much your life is positively affected. Check your perspective and be willing to give yourself credit when it is deserved.

One final thought is this: It’s almost impossible to be negative if you cultivate an attitude of gratitude. One of the most effective ways to develop the cognitive skill of optimism is to frequently use the phrase, “I am grateful for…” For example, it might be your old habit to say, “I am so upset that I didn’t get that promotion, but nothing ever works out for me.” Your new attitude can be reflected in, “I am so disappointed that I didn’t get that promotion, but I am grateful to have a job and hopeful that another opportunity will arise in the future.” In your exercise of gratitude, liberally thank people who have contributed to the good things that happen in life. Even small things like someone bringing treats to the office or your spouse preparing a meal becomes one of life’s good things when you acknowledge it with a sincere “thank you”.

The power of optimism lies in the fact that it will make a dramatic difference in the quality of your life and the lives of people around you. It works like a magnet – a positive attitude attracts positive people and events. I am positive that you can become more optimistic!

Live, Work and Relate Well!

Dr. Todd

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