A dose of optimism – How to be an optimist?
Life is not the same anymore! The ways of living have changed as uncertainty and challenge are the new constants of our lives. Pandemic, recession, protests and with the demise of so many loved and legendary figures, can 2020 get any worse? With nothing good coming along, deep within we are getting conditioned and convinced of the inevitable – more negative news! Let’s just say that it’s not easy to be an optimist in the current times. However, is there a way out of all this? Can we learn again to be an optimist? Is there a website, www.howtobeoptimistic.com?
There is a feeling of helplessness and hopelessness. I wanted to know if at all optimism can be relearned in today’s atmosphere of unrest and ambiguity? Therefore, I started my research on that line of thought. I was pleasantly surprised to see so much work on learned optimism.
What is Learned Optimism in Psychology?
According to an article in positive psychology, Learned Optimism is an idea that speaks of amending our attitude and behaviors – by recognizing and challenging our negative self-talk, among other things.
Martin Seligman’s landmark studies
Positive Psychology’s founding father, Martin Seligman’s landmark studies on depressed state of mind in dogs is revolutionary. In the study, Seligman subjected the dogs to undergo mild electric shocks without giving them the scope to escape the discomfort. It was observed that even if the dogs were offered easy way to escape later on, they did not go anywhere. They had learned helplessness (a state of mind whereby an individual believes that they are unable to change their circumstances after experiencing repeated setbacks or stressful events (Abramson et al., 1978; Seligman & Garber, 1980; Maier & Seligman, 2016)
We have an advantage
I know that it has similarities to how 2020 is making you feel sometimes – helpless. However, there is good news. As per the study, a subset of humans are capable of fighting back when life kicks them around. A category of people known as optimists.
You can train yourself to be an optimist – a skill you can learn
Many of us relate optimism to a personality trait. Either you have it from childhood or you don’t. To a certain extent the theory of your tendency to see the glass half full or half empty is partially dominated by your genes and other factors beyond your control. Pessimism can equally be a positive trait when it comes to business or entrepreneurship. The ability to be fixated on the negatives can save you money and get you out of trouble. However, here I am talking about continuous setbacks and the ability to fight back. A dose of optimism is very helpful when it comes to fight back or making a comeback.
According to Seligman’s explanatory style definition, “The basis of optimism does not lie in positive phrases or images of victory, but in the way you think about causes” (Seligman, 2007: 52).
What am I trying to say?
Covid 19 situation and with so many sad news around, how can I feel good about anything? But I guess, ‘feeling good’ comes from doing something good.
Next time when a series of unwelcoming thoughts play on a loop in your head, get up and make something. Make someone feel good about themselves. Drop in a compliment. Or even making a cup of tea for someone will do. You are not a case study and one of Seligman’s poor dogs. There is a way out for you, always.
“The illiterate of the 21st century,” Alvin Toffler famously said, “will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.”