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From Our Print Archives

The Power of Optimism

Vol. 15 •Issue 14 • Page 32
The Power of Optimism

Who does not want to live a meaningful life, have more fun and be successful? Optimism is an attitude that sets people up for success in life by focusing on what works and how we contribute to what works.

Let me confess right here and now. I am a recovering negaholic; that's right, I am a former negative person. A negative take on the world has some benefit. Being negative means you don't take any risks, you create a buffer between yourself and others so you will not be vulnerable, you don't have many disappointments because you have no expectations. However, being a negative person also means that co-workers shy away from you, your children will think you are an old grouch, you might not get that job promotion or your general health—mental and physical—may suffer.

On the other hand, optimism has the power to help you live with purpose, passion and possibility. Who does not want to live a meaningful life, have more fun and be successful? Optimism is an attitude that sets us up for life success by focusing on what works and how we contribute to what works.

Explaining the Good and Bad

According to Martin Seligman, who pioneered much of the research on optimism, being optimistic involves how we explain the good and bad things that happen to us. When good things happen the optimist takes the credit and the pessimist considers it to be fluke or a stroke of luck. The optimist believes that good things will last whereas the pessimist believes that good things will not last.

When bad things happen the optimist believes that the situation is temporary, that the bad event is limited to a particular situation and that bad events are caused by circumstances. Pessimistic people believe that bad events are permanent and will affect all areas of their lives and they blame themselves.

The result of being optimistic is that optimists interpret experience and influence outcomes positively. Does that mean that optimists never get down, depressed, upset with life?

Absolutely not. Being optimistic is about being real. The difference is that optimists are active and have a sense that what we do matters. In addition, living life as an optimist means that we take responsibility for our actions.

Just because we believe that bad events are not a result of something internally wrong with us, we do acknowledge when we have done wrong and work toward making amends. Optimism is realistic, flexible and above all hopeful.

According to Max Moore, the author of Dynamic Optimism, optimists have a number of personal characteristics. Optimists have a selective focus; they emphasize the enjoyable, constructive aspects of life. They refrain from complaining and question limits and challenge beliefs. Optimists operate with a sense of abundance and recognize the world to be full of opportunities for themselves and others. Optimists typically make excellent use of laughter as a way to reduce their distress and relieve tension.

Optimists live a life that is driven by trust, not fear, and use reasons to objectively assess situations. We believe that we have the ability to make good things happen and we take charge and create the conditions for success. This involves personal responsibility, which means living a value-driven life. Optimists attract and are attracted to positive people and situations.

Life View Effects Health

The power of optimism manifests itself in physical and mental health. According to the Mayo Clinic, studies show that optimists live longer than pessimists. The immune system of people who are optimistic is more effective and optimists are more likely to seek medical advice and stick to a health regime. In addition, they are more likely to see support as a coping strategy, which has an impact on both physical and mental health. Optimism protects against depression and we now understand that many illnesses are influenced by feelings.

Can you learn to become more optimistic? If you answer yes, you are most likely an optimist! Martin Seligman's' book titled Learned Optimism, says it all. The ability to be optimistic is considered to be one of the skills of emotional intelligence. The good news is that skills can be learned. (However, there is one caution. If you have been living with an ongoing sadness for years, you should seek the advice of a health care professional. You may have a biologically based depression that requires medical intervention; no amount of therapy or willpower will change a chemical imbalance.)

Plug into the power of optimism and light up your life, improve your health and create happiness for yourself and those around you.

Lucy MacDonald is the author of Learn to be an Optimist: A practical guide to achieving happiness. She is also the publisher of Positive Perspectives, a free monthly e-zine available at


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