The Happiness Connection  

Optimism is more than just looking on the bright side

Optimism over pessimism

I had a conversation last week with a young woman who was feeling anxious about the events in Ukraine.

Eventually, she put her main concern into a question. “Do you think Russia’s going to drop an atom (nuclear) bomb?”

I’m sure many people can relate to her worry. What’s happening in the world is extremely serious.

What did I say? I try to be as open as I can in all my interactions. Don’t ask me to go shopping with you unless you really want to know my opinion. I try to voice my thoughts respectfully, but even so my commitment to honesty can be difficult if you aren’t used to it.

“They might,” I answered. “But I think it’s unlikely.”

There are reasons why I feel this way, but much of my belief comes down to the fact that I’m an optimist.

Optimism is the quality of being hopeful and emphasizing the positive parts of a situation. It’s about believing something good will result from a challenge.

Regardless of whether you see yourself as an optimist, pessimist or a realist, all humans are predisposed to feel hopeful about their future.

This programming probably evolved to help our species survive. If you face the future with anticipation, you’re more likely to set goals and work toward them. If you’re convinced you won’t be successful, what’s the use in trying.

This tendency to be hopeful about your future is known as the “Optimism Bias.” It leads each of us to believe our personal future will contain less misfortune and more success than average. Perhaps this helps explain why people get married, despite knowing the divorce statistics. They believe they’ll beat the odds. But not everybody can achieve that feat.

This bias means humans have irrationally positive brains. Sometimes they’re too optimistic for their own good. That’s why this tendency is also known as the “illusion of invulnerability.”

It can lead to poor decision-making and unnecessary risk. Imagine how different your life would be if you didn’t believe anything bad could ever happen to you. Why practice safe sex, wear sunscreen or buy insurance?

It’s important to see the world realistically, not just as a place filled with sunshine and rainbows.

Research shows tempering optimism with a small dose of realism, or even a dash of pessimism, is a good way to build resilience and achieve your goals. In other words, don’t ignore or dismiss negative thoughts when they arise.

My conversation from last week didn’t only address my optimistic beliefs. We also talked about whether this woman had any power over Putin and his decisions. If you can’t control something, is it worthy of your attention and energy?

This isn’t about pretending the war in Ukraine won’t escalate or that a global war couldn’t possibly happen. Healthy optimists don’t bury their heads in the sand, they simply choose to focus on possibility and positivity.

Regardless of how hopeful you feel about the future, only about 25% of your optimism levels are due to genetics and other factors beyond your control. The other 75% comes from conscious choice.

There are many reasons why increasing your level of optimism is good for you. That because optimists:

• Are less susceptible to the negative effects of illness, fatigue, and depression

• Have better pain management and improved immunity

• Are better at coping with adversity

• Have lower stress levels

• Enjoy better physical health

• Are more persistent when pursuing goals.

If you want to be more optimistic, start by asking yourself which of the following two statements you believe most—life is happening for me, or, life is happening to me.

The first means you believe there’s a purpose in everything that happens. Challenges may not be fun, but they carry a gift if you look for it. The second carries victim energy. It suggests you have little or no control over your life. It’s tricky to remain hopeful about your future, if you don’t think you have any say in what’s going to happen.

If you’re more aligned with the latter statement, start by questioning this belief. Is there really nothing you can do if you lose your job?

View your future with hope regardless of what your current circumstances are. Your choices and beliefs will help shape your future. Try being more mindful, practicing gratitude and journaling about your positive thoughts and emotions. These actions have all been proven to increase your level of optimism.

Collectively, humans can be very pessimistic, but personal optimism has been found to be incredibly resilient.

Optimists view the future with hope, and hope keeps your mind at ease.

If you find yourself worrying about the current state of the world, this may be the perfect time to consciously become more of an optimist.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

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About the Author

Reen Rose is an experienced, informative, and engaging speaker, author, and educator. She has worked for over three decades in the world of education, teaching children and adults in Canada and England.

Research shows that happy people are better leaders, more successful, and healthier than their unhappy counterparts, and yet so many people still believe that happiness is a result of their circumstances.

Happiness is a choice. Reen’s presentations and workshops are designed to help you become robustly happy. This is her term for happiness that can withstand challenge and change.

Reen blends research-based expertise, storytelling, humour, and practical strategies to both inform and inspire. She is a Myers Briggs certified practitioner, a Microsoft Office certified trainer and a qualified and experienced teacher.

Email Reen at [email protected]

Check out her websites at www.ReenRose.com, or www.ModellingHappiness.com

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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