This week, I took my daughters to see the new Pixar film, Inside Out. The character of Joy in the film is relentlessly cheerful, and positive that a quick injection of happiness will fix all problems. She embodies optimism – a strong expectation that good things will be plentiful in the future and bad things scarce.
Optimism can be observed, and developed, in the way in which we explain the causes of negative events in our lives. For example, we can decide that a problem is a temporary setback (rather than an ongoing disaster) and that its causes are specific to the situation (and therefore unlikely to recur).
Rather than immediately heaping blame on ourselves for every issue, we can decide that things happened due to circumstances, bad luck or other people. These are the defining characteristics of an optimistic thinker.
Imagine that you reach across the table now and somehow knock over a cup of tea….. Which of the following responses is more likely to jump into your mind?
Arrrggghhhh! I’m always sooooo clumsy! I can’t do anything without making a mess! There goes my good mood for the day!
Arrrggghhh! What a shocker! How on earth did that happen? Too much stuff on the table! Ok, clean it up, move on…..
Both responses acknowledge that the spilt tea is a negative event but the level of optimism in each response differs strongly. The second response firmly places the problem as temporary and doesn’t leap to self-blame. It also keeps the event specific to the time and circumstances rather than having wider impact.
As Mums, negative things happen, and sadly they can be worse than a spilt cup of tea. However, learning to think more optimistically can definitely help to maintain wellbeing and build resilience. Research has linked higher levels of optimism to a reduced incidence of depression and anxiety and to overall better physical health. For example, a recent study from the University of Illinois focused on cardiovascular health and found that individuals with higher levels of optimism were twice as likely to be in ideal cardiovascular health, as compared to more pessimistic people.
The next time that something goes wrong please notice your response and see whether there are ways in which you can guide your thinking in the direction of optimism.
best wishes from Flourishing Mothers
Adapted by Flourishing Mothers from the work of Carver & Scheier and Seligman