Optimism has been described by scientific experts as being an enduring affective trait which governs how a person will experience and respond to stimuli (Fredrickson, Emmons & McCullough, 2004). In other words, that means that our reaction to “stuff”, positive or negative, is based upon how optimistic we feel at the point at which we encounter said “stuff”. Optimism itself is generally considered to be our expectation that good things will happen but of course that can be on a fickle sliding scale linked to almost anything; time of day, day of the week or what the weather is like. And tomorrow, that may all change! There is often no discernable pattern as to who or what is influencing our optimistic (or not so optimistic) self.
Keep on Running
Professor Martin Seligman, Godfather of the science of happiness, argued that as a rule of thumb, optimism is dependent upon our internal explanatory style in our response to an event. In doing so, he proposes that there is an element of self -control and that we can learn to create our own positive intervention as a reaction to that “stuff” that just landed.
Let’s explore that a bit more. What Seligman is saying here is that the way in which we interpret and explain things to ourselves can affect how optimistic we feel and that in turn can be used to our advantage. I’m guessing that every time Usaine Bolt pulled on his running spikes, he was pretty optimistic about his chances of outrunning the rest of the field. His explanatory style would have reflected this and so becomes a self- fulfilling prophecy of success and positivity! Telling ourselves good things about ourselves and predicting a positive outcome could well be an intervention worth considering.
It’s a Family Affair
Being optimistic has also been found to have broadly positive effect on positive physical health and wellbeing. In their meta-analysis of scientific experiments, Rassmussen, Scheier & Greenhouse (2009) proposed that optimism is a protector which can act as a buffer against, amongst other “stuff”, harmful stress.
They also found that there were positive consequences to psychosocial factors (how we think) and that our optimism can be significantly affected by socioeconomic resources (those around us and our surroundings). Status (Heinonen et al., 2006), social networks, community and interconnectivity with others (MacLeod & Conway, 2005) have all been identified as optimism influencers suggesting then that a holistic approach to wellbeing needs to extend well beyond our workplace.
Based upon this thinking, should Employee Assistance Programs (EAP) which support employees’ family, and external stressors such as debt advice and spousal health, be considered an important part of our positive wellbeing employee approach?
Being optimistic then promotes positivity, and good health and appears to be self- perpetuating but what’s the stepping on point to this self-improving, self-defence, self-awareness wheel? A quick internet search reveals a host of techniques ranging from listening to sentimental music through to pet stroking... Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it I guess.
These suggestions aside, there is a common theme, that of giving our time to others. Philanthropy it transpires, results in improved wellbeing, positivity and optimism for us as well as benefitting those on the receiving end of our actions.
It seems then that sustainably building our optimistic self should be part of our journey to better mental health and wellbeing. I am positive it is!
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