That’s the title of this month’s Action for Happiness calendar. The calendar’s packed with ideas to help you stay hopeful and focused. Something very relevant and resonant in the current climate..
But is there really any science behind optimism and positive mental health? And what if I’m a glass half empty kinda guy?
Well. As the excellent Samuel L Jackson as Jules Winnefield said in Pulp Fiction, ‘Allow me to retort.’
Positive psychologists believe the presence of positive traits benefits us in the following ways:
Better physical and mental health (Carver and Scheier, 2014).
- Less anxiety, more stress resilience, better coping mechanisms and reduced depression (Lam et al., 2016; Orom, Nelson, Underwood, Homish and Kapoor, 2015).
- Better sleep quality and are less prone to insomnia and other sleep disorders (Uchino et al., 2016).
- Trauma survivors with higher levels of optimism could recuperate from the trauma and stress sooner than individuals who were pessimistic and anxious (Birkeland, Blix, Silberg, and Heir, 2016).
- Reduced heart problems, lower mortality, and low suicide ideations (Kim, Smith, and Kubzansky, 2014).
As for being born pessimists, research found it’s the explanatory style people have for explaining the events in your life determines their outlook. Winston Churchill summed up the difference in his own inimitable style
‘A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.’
An easier way to understand the explanatory style of thinking of a pessimist is ‘me, always and everything.’ Someone with a pessimistic explanatory making sense of bad news might say, “I failed. I always fail. And I fail at everything.” Conversely an optimistic might view the same bad news ‘This other thing made me fail. At this. And it won’t last.’
This is Learned Optimism and changing your internal language can dramatically affect your outlook. An example would be: “I made this meal in a rush” versus “I am a bad cook.”
So, optimism is a choice and can be learned. And the benefits to both mental and physical health are substantial.
But don’t just take my word for it. The Dalai Lama summed up optimism succinctly:
“Choose to be optimistic, it feels better.”
Good day everyone.
And good mental health.