Optimism is an important component of resilience – and one that is very often misinterpreted.
What comes to your mind when you hear the word “optimism”?
Seeing everything through rose-coloured glasses?
Putting lipstick on a pig?
Or even the saying: “A pessimist is an optimist with experience”?
Looked at closely, optimism is far from being unrealistic – on the contrary. It’s proven, that optimists are more proactive in facing challenges, partly because they have a better eye for – and focus on – the aspects they can influence and are thus more confident about the future.
Confidence is a crucial aspect of resilience. It is, so to speak, the engine that enables us to endure and move on in the face of adversity.
What’s different about optimists?
According to studies (sources and references at the end of the article), more optimistic people differ from people with a less positive attitude in three aspects:
Perception – optimists are better at
- perceiving and identifying problems (reality check)
- seeing difficult situations as a challenge – not a threat
- having an eye for what they can influence
- accepting aspects over which they have no influence
Behaviour – optimists are more inclined to
- actively step into difficult situations in order to cope with them – rather than getting stuck or avoiding them
- seek information to get a comprehensive picture of the situations
- ask for help
- take action
- have an exercise routine
- eat a healthier
Emotions – optimists have
- more positive emotions overall
- a healthy sense of humour, which they also use to cope with difficult situations
How do they do it?
The heart of optimism is the way we evaluate and assess situations. On the one hand, there is the general disposition of how we see people and the world (“Everything will be all right in the end – and if it’s not all right, it’s not the end.” // “People are basically good.” …). Secondly, it is about what we think about negative experiences in the past and about the future, i.e. how we explain to ourselves what happened or what could happen. The two levers here are:
- Taking things personally (pessimist) – or not (optimist).
- Generalisation (pessimist) – or differentiation (optimist).
Let me give you an example:
Imagine you are looking for a job and have applied for a very attractive position in a great company. After some time you receive a rejection.
The optimist’s explanation for this rejection differs from the pessimist’s as follows:
|“Probably something didn’t fit on part |
of the company.”
|“I’m just not good enough.”||Taking it personally|
|“There is probably an even more suitable job for me out there.” /|
“This is not the only job out there.”
|“I’ll never find a job.”||Generalisation of the situation|
|“It just did not work out at this company.”||“Probably no company wants somebody like me.”||Generalisation of rejection|
You may already notice what you are more likely to lean into. And yes, regarding this topic, circumstances may be challenging right now. But that makes it all the more important to maintain confidence in order to move on.
And the good news is: optimistic thinking patterns can be developed!
It is possible to track down your less productive interpretations and transform them into more effective ones. And it’s worth it!
Those who know how to positively influence their thinking style
- cope better with stress
- experience more social support from friends, family and colleagues – because people prefer to surround themselves with postive people
- have happier relationships
- have a better emotional and mental well-being
- are more satisfied and happy with their lives
- are less likely to develop symptoms of depression
- have a better immune system
- reduce their risk of a heart attack
- live longer
- are more successful at work
- act more effective under pressure
In next week’s article you will learn how you can develop your optimism muscle and effective thinking patterns, how thinking traps might get into your way and how a real-life example that actually has to do with job applications shows optimism at work.
An optimist is a pessimist who has learned to form his thoughts for his benefit.
References and Readings
Aspinwall L.G., Richter, L. & Hoffman,III, R.R. (2001). Understanding how optimism works: An examination of optimists’ adaptive moderation in belief and behavior. In E.C.Chang (Ed.) Optimism & pessimism: Implications for theory, research, and practice (217-238.) Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
Peterson and Steen. Optimistic Explanatory Style Chapter 29, Oxford Handbook of Positive Psychology, Edition 2 (2011.)