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The gulf between the optimist and the pessimist

OptimismIn Learned Optimism, Martin E. P. Seligman sets out to understand why some people, when faced with adversity, dust themselves off and jump back into the game while others cave in and give up. He concludes that optimists possess a world view that makes them more resilient in the face of life's inevitable problems while pessimists lack that internal resiliency.

The results of a pessimistic world view are startling. Pessimism dramatically increases your risk of clinical depression and it also tends to make you age faster and less gracefully. Pessimistic people --- even if they began with the same or greater talent --- also succeed less often in life (graduating from college, getting raises at work, winning at sports, etc.). Basically, being pessimistic is bad for your health.

So what's the little difference that creates these big results? In some ways, it's a simple mind game. Pessimists believe that bad things "will last a long time, will undermine everything they do, and are their own fault." Optimists, in contrast, tend to use the struck-by-lightning hypothesis --- everything bad was caused by external forces, isn't likely to be repeated, and is only temporary. "The optimists," Seligman writes, "believe defeat is not their fault."

If you're a dyed-in-the-wool pessimist, does that mean you're sunk? Luckily, no. It's quite possible to change your thinking and change your life trajectory. In tomorrow's post, I'll start showing you Seligman's method how.



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My experiences with optimism vs pessimism have shown me that sometimes I escape from reality by "putting on the extra sweater of pessimism" (or, in a lighter vein, taking along an umbrella, to "keep it from raining")--so then also can discard the too-confining shell of pessimism, to be optimistic, just because I am not, that moment, pessimistic. Being realistic, on the other hand, takes into account physical and economic limitations I know I cannot really change.

Being open to change doesn't always mean one is optimistic, though. Sometimes being open to change means accepting and being honest, and then figuring out a new way, which, I guess, is an optimist's strategy. I guess being pessimistic is more disturbing and confining in certain stages of a person's life.

Comment by adrianne Wed Aug 16 08:24:10 2017

Adrianne - I was tagged early on by one of my teachers in middle school for being "The Eternal Optimist" before I even realized I leaned that way. I have no idea how in the 8th grade I may have exhibited my being an optimist??
I love the story Anna is sharing here and can relate back through my own thought processes in that I generally believe any setback is temporary and whether I caused it or not - I can either fix it or move on, pushing it aside as it will not matter in the end. Your comment regarding age so far has eluded me in that I still believe I am young and have "time" I have even asked myself, "will I always feel like this even when I am 80?" Party on!

Comment by Jayne Wed Aug 16 10:11:27 2017
And what about realists?
Comment by Roland_Smith Wed Aug 16 16:22:07 2017
Roland --- Good question! I think the author of the book would argue that the human experience is all filtered through our beliefs, so trying to be a true realist is probably an unattainable goal. However, tomorrow's post will hit that topic a little deeper and prove that you're on the right track in certain aspects.
Comment by anna Wed Aug 16 19:09:16 2017

One very unique homestead, $1,500 per acre, the opportunity of a lifetime