This weekend I participated in a Black Lives Matter march in my community and it had a profound effect on me. Not only was I educated more fully on the pervasive racism and inequities in our daily lives, but I was also struck by the level of optimism and open-heartedness I witnessed and felt on Saturday as we marched, prayed and kneeled together in public solidarity around this sensitive issue.
The young people who organized this gathering were passionate, hopeful, and inclusive. Everyone was welcome and all ideas considered. It made me feel optimistic for the future of our country and the long overdue changes that may occur soon.
Which got me thinking about optimism. What is it to be optimistic? Are we born optimistic or is it learned behavior? How does an optimistic outlook manifest itself?
My husband always says one of the (many, LOL) things he likes about me, is that I am so optimistic. I wasn’t always so bright and sunny and had a very negative outlook on life when I was younger. I think it had to do with having a “fixer” mentality, always looking for problems to solve. And I think also surrounding myself with people who were pessimistic and always expected negative outcomes.
Luckily, I read the book Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Change Your Life by Martin Seligman, the founder of positive psychology, many years ago and knew the answers to the questions I posed above. Dr. Seligman’s theories resonated with me and I began to apply what I learned, realizing that my expectation and my self-talk impacted my outcomes. And I wanted to have more positive results and less negativity in my life. I highly recommend you read this if you haven’t already. Especially now, in these disquieting times of pandemic, social unrest and uncertainty.
Optimism is not about head- in- the- sand denial or being a PollyAnna. It is more about rational assessment of a given situation, knowing our capability and acting upon it in a way that precludes a more positive outcome. It does not guarantee it, but it gives us more a sense of control and promotes wellbeing, more so than expecting the worst.
Not convinced you should cultivate a more positive outlook? Let me give you five reasons you may want to reconsider giving this a try.
We live longer. That’s right, having an optimistic outlook means lower blood pressure, heart disease and maybe even cancer. This may be because optimists take better care of their health overall, exercising, not smoking and getting enough sleep.
We have better relationships with our significant other. Mainly because we see our partner in a more positive light and work on the relationship because of it. Even if one partner is optimistic it affects the bond; the positive influence can help the less optimistic partner become more so.
Optimists are less likely to get sick. If anyone has read The Power of Positive Thinking by Dr. Norman Vincent Peale you understand the power of positivity in maintaining and recovering your health.
Did I say optimistic people are more successful? Yes, they are both at home and at work, or @WFH. They are able to shrug off adversity, feel more satisfied in their job and this may actually help them maintain their position or advance. People just want to be around and work for and with upbeat people.
And of course, optimism helps you bounce back when the going gets tough and curbs burnout when you are stressed. This resilience also fuels increases in performance too.
Optimism is a learned skill that can be developed. If you have been feeling down lately, I understand. However, if you want to make a change that will impact your wellbeing and future outcomes, do you need any more reasons to practice learned optimism?
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