Life is sweet when you are optimistic. Nothing is impossible. It’s easy street, and the best is yet to come! Facing every day with confidence, buoyancy and a positive attitude – that’s optimism, and we all wish we had it, all the time!
And some of us do. Some of us go through life, especially after we reach 60, convinced that we are living in the best of all possible worlds!
But some of us may see things in a different way, opting for more a skeptical and less buoyant version of optimism. What makes the difference? And is one better than the other?
As it turns out, psychologists propose that there are two main avenues to optimism.
Problem Based Optimism
Problem-focused optimism is an outlook based on problem solving, where you remain optimistic as you try to turn the tide and get to the root of your problems. You decide what’s needed, set out a plan and go through the steps to complete it, convinced that your efforts will work.
Emotion Based Optimism
Emotion-focused optimism is an outlook based on emotions, where you try to make yourself feel better through strategies such as looking at the bright side, putting a bad event out of your mind or calming your feelings through relaxation or meditation.
This second option has proven to be the most popular. People want to feel good and they jumped at the suggestion, put forward by the New Age Movement some years ago. This option explains that thoughts should be controlled to eliminate all negative emotions.
The belief is that having positive thoughts can actually change “energy” and influence events. This philosophy promotes a daily, moment-by-moment effort to fight negative thoughts.
This notion has enormous appeal and may work for some people. It takes a great deal of concentration to do this, since thoughts have a way of tumbling into our consciousness despite our best efforts. However, while it seems harmless to force yourself to have a positive attitude at all times, this method may take you off track, and prevent real change rather than facilitate it.
Optimism can also look like something else, with more serious overtones. Some people who have fragile psychological health may develop a strategy of always seeming to be in a happy mood. They adopt a cheerful tone of voice, and virtually “chirp” their way through each day, even when their lives are fraught with problems.
This is “fake” optimism, and is usually adopted when people are unable to face their issues. Their approach flies in the face of psychological thought, which advocates that acknowledging problems is a way to grow and become healthy. They are in danger of developing depression once they cannot maintain their positive act.
In a lengthy study of mental health, The World Health Organization suggests that while you can’t always control what happens to you, it is how you respond to your problems that is important. The capacity to cope with adversity, not the determination to be constantly optimistic, may make the difference between good and poor mental health.
The study stresses the ability to respond flexibly to issues. It says, “Optimism appears the dominant cognition of the mentally healthy, and optimists have been found to have better coping mechanisms such as acceptance of reality and reliance on personal growth.”
The desire to be positive is a genuine, natural response to the challenges of life. Early in our childhood, each of us has developed a way of coping, but what arises during childhood may change as we proceed through our adult years. You may shift from one focus to the other as you move through different stages in your life.
You may have periods when you see the difficulties in your life with great clarity and take steps to change the direction of your thinking and behavior. You may have other times when you want to negate unpleasant developments and just hide.
As with many other psychological responses, it is important to be aware of how we are feeling, and whether we are on track, or have allowed our outlook to become pessimistic and our responses to be negative.
Optimism as Your Friend
As you age, view optimism as your friend – a path to always see the best in every situation, a way to work through your challenges and a companion to happiness, personal strength and altruism. Optimism has a rightful place in your daily life and should be nurtured and welcomed as you greet each day.
What is your mood when you awake each morning – do you bound out of bed, or want to pull up the covers and avoid the day? When approaching a problem, do you look for solutions first, or do you go through the reasons it won’t work? Have you ever tried to limit your negative thoughts to be more optimistic? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.