A friend of mind went for a Covid test out at the centre near the airport last week. As she described her experience, it was like a review of a first class hotel. The receptionist was very welcoming. She looked very glamorous even through her PPE gear. The security guard was very helpful. The nurse who administered the test was so caring and supportive.
Now, I have heard many people describe their experiences of Covid testing, but none in those terms. It reminded me of the image of a girl boarding a train, I often use in the ads for my courses with the caption, “Wherever you go, you bring yourself with you.”
My friend, of course, is one of the most optimistic people I know, with a great sense of humour. She has like all of us, experienced highs and lows in her life, but has always been able to come out smiling, and keep “smelling the roses”. She is a very realistic and resourceful person, and is always able to see and draw out the good in other people and situations. Some might say she lives a charmed life, but I believe it is her outlook, her optimistic mind set that creates it.
IS IT ALL DOWN TO GENETICS?
Some of us are more naturally cheerful and optimistic than others. This is called ‘dispositional optimism” and it, and its opposite, “dispositional pessimism” have a strong genetic influence. So, whether your parents were happy and cheerful, or depressed and anxious, is likely to effect your disposition.
If our state of happiness or unhappiness was determined solely by our genetics, I probably wouldn’t be involved in teaching my “Take the Steps” courses or even being involved in psychotherapy or counseling. Fortunately, research by Martin Seligman and other psychologists has conclusively shown that developing an optimistic mind set is something we can learn. Optimistic thinking is a skill set that can be taught.
But why, if I am a bit of a nay sayer, and more aware of the downsides in myself, people and situations, would I want to change? Is it not more realistic, does it not prepare me more for shocks, so I am better able to bounce back? If I expect little, I can’t be disappointed! Are those optimists not a bit “pie in the sky”, and in for a rude awakening one of the days?
AN OPTIMISTIC MIND SET HELPS YOU BOUNCE BACK FASTER
The answer is “ no “actually. Resilience, the capacity to bounce back after challenges, is actually related to a person’s level of positivity to start with – the more positive a person is, the faster they bounce back after a shock or challenge. Research shows that optimists tend to be healthier, to live eight years longer on average than pessimists, to have more long-lasting relationships, to end up in higher status jobs, and to earn more money. Pessimism, basically, should come with a health warning!
Seligman’s research shows that adults and children thought the skills of optimistic thinking, halved the incidence of depression and anxiety in the following two years, so that might be of interest too!
A couple of weeks ago, a young client of mine, a persistent worrier and overthinker came up with this insight “ you know I have just realized that before an exam or a date or whatever, I put myself through hell. No matter even if the situation turns out well, I have already suffered. And if it turns out badly, I have suffered twice”.The insight propelled her forward to develop a different thinking style.
So when it comes to either physical or mental health, pessimism should come with a health warning!
CBT IN A NUTSHELL
The whole area of CBT( Cognitive Behaviour Therapy) is devoted to changing ways of thinking, but here, for anyone interested in dipping their toes in the water, is my very brief, easy to learn version: :
WHEN GOOD THINGS HAPPEN: an optimist expands the scope of it, there’s going to be more of it, it is going to continue into the future, it will effect other things in my life in a good way, things that I have done helped bring this about.
On the other hand, a pessimist narrows down the scope of it : its just this once, it won’t effect anything else in my life, it’s a fluke that it happened, not due my efforts.
WHEN BAD THINGS HAPPEN: an optimist narrows down the scope of it, its just this once, it won’t happen again, its not entirely my fault.
A pessimist expands the scope of it, it’s going to keep happening, its going to affect everything I do, it will ruin my life, its all my fault.
In a nutshell, expand on the good stuff, narrow the scope of the bad stuff. Also, it helps to think of your head as a theatre: replay the good stuff, stop reviewing the bad plays!