Have you ever met some people who navigate through their lives so easily as compared to others who struggle at every single point? Martin Seligman, the father of positive psychology, has spent decades of research trying to find out the secret of the former group of people.
The secret: They are optimists!
Seligman refers to both optimism and pessimism as ‘explanatory styles’ or the way in which we explain the bad events in our lives.
Now optimists and pessimists differ from each other in three characteristic ways:
1. Pessimists see their problems as permanent whereas optimists see them as temporary.
Dan forwarded the wrong contract to his boss. If Dan is a pessimist, he will tell himself that he always makes mistakes like these! If he is an optimist, he will tell himself that he made a mistake this one time but will try and not repeat it.
2. Optimists see problems as specific to a situation, pessimists make them a general case.
The pessimistic Dan, in the example above, generalised one mistake to represent the nature of all his actions. The optimistic Dan understood the specificity of the situation and treated it as a singular case, not letting it reflect on his other actions.
3. Optimists see problems as externally caused, pessimists blame themselves.
When seeking a divorce, an optimist will think to herself, “It’s good for both of us since he never wanted to have kids and I did.” And a pessimist will think to himself, “I never gave her enough time that’s why she left me.”
Luckily both styles are acquired and can be learned! So how can you become an optimist quickly?
Try using the ABCD technique by Albert Ellis!
A stands for the activating event that seems to trigger an emotion
B stands for the belief system that underlies the way in which a person appraises the event
C stands for the emotional and behavioral consequences of that appraisal
D is the key to changing maladaptive emotions and behaviours: disputing or challenging an erroneous belief system
Ellis pointed out that people are accustomed to viewing their emotions [C] as being caused directly by the events [A]. Thus, a young man who is turned down for a date may feel rejected and depressed. However, Ellis would insist that the woman’s refusal is not the true reason for the emotional reaction. Rather the young man’s depression is caused by his irrational belief [B] that “because she doesn’t want to be with me, I’m worthless and no one will ever be want to be with me.”
If the young man does not want to feel rejected and depressed, this belief must be countered [D] and replaced by a more rational interpretation (eg:, “It would have been nice if she had accepted my invitation, but I don’t need to turn it into a catastrophe. It does not mean that other women will never care about me.”)
- Increased life span
- Lower rates of depression
- Lower levels of distress
- Better psychological and physical well-being
- Better cardiovascular health and reduced risk of death from cardiovascular disease
- Better coping skills during hardships and times of stress
The above mentioned are only a few out a large number of benefits that a positive outlook towards life can bring you. So are you ready to make the change?