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Optimism Improves Happiness

Updated: Mar 17, 2023

If I were to ask you which side you tend to fall on, would you say you were an optimist or a pessimist?

Studies have shown that optimist character traits lead to better physical and mental health, higher motivation, a longer lifespan, and lower stress levels. So, why wouldn't everyone want to be an optimist? Well, optimism and pessimism, while partially hereditary, tend to stem from childhood experiences. It's a classic nature vs. nurture debate.

Martin Seligman, a clinical psychologist, author, former president of the American Psychological Association, and father of modern positive psychology, found that optimism can be increased through practiced optimism training. This training tends to focus on the 3 Ps of Cognitive Distortions - personalization, pervasiveness, and permanence. Let’s review what his ideas are:

First, personalization. This is how we diagnose when bad things happen. Pessimists tend to blame themselves, whereas optimists recognize the reality of the situation and focus on doing better next time.

Second, pervasiveness. Pervasiveness is when you take the results of an event and contribute them to the rest of your life. Pessimists take negative results, and optimists take positive results. For example, a pessimist might say a failed job interview means they will never get a job.

Third, permanence. This is whether one views a negative situation as temporary or permanent. For example, a musician who performed poorly would either think, "I've always been a terrible musician," or "I played poorly today because X, but I'll do better next time.

By relearning and taking a more positive mindset to these three cognitive distortions, people can improve their optimism and happiness.

Before you take all of this to heart, Dr. Seligman cautions that improving optimism doesn't happen overnight. Just like relearning any skill, it takes time and patience.

He also notes that there is such a thing as being too optimistic. This is when people don't accept the realities of life and magically think everything will work out no matter what, life cliff jumping with no experience or instruction. This isn't healthy either, so it is essential to find a balance that leads toward optimism.

Remember, Kindness is Contagious. Go out into the world and be kind to someone today.

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