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Spontaneous Overflow Reflecting in Tranquility

The Official Blog of Michael Schoenhofer, Executive Director

How to Be an Optimist in a Pessimist's World

It seems that there is an epidemic of “dispositional pessimism.” What is that? Dispositional Pessimism is the tendency to keep your expectations very low in any situation so that you minimize your chances of being disappointed. Say for example, you get invited to a party and you imagine the people being boring, the food not up to par or too fattening, and you will be off in a corner by yourself. It’s a way to convince yourself either not to go or not to put much effort into having a good time. It looks at life as a string of disappointments and people as ultimately disappointing. But this tendency to see the dark side of everything is just a bad strategy that ruins relationships and even your health. The opposite is to look at life from a different and more optimistic point of view. Optimists it turns out live longer, have more friends, and make more money according to a number of research studies. The good news is that if you find yourself on the dark end of the optimism / pessimism scale you can slide up the scale and begin to enjoy the benefits that optimists have been enjoying for years and just not telling anyone about.

1. Stop Trying. Start Doing.

In fact, the most important thing you can do is to stop trying to be happy and instead get engaged in something you enjoy or feel passionate about. When you are fully engaged you are distracted from a pessimists favorite pastime which is RUMINATION (the endless obsessing over a problem or concern). When you are fully engaged your attention is completely focused on the the thing you love whether it is playing music, playing a sport, or working on a hobby. Time flies! You feel full of energy! And all that stuff that seemed such a big problem before just seems to vanish. You have to move your hands and feet - literally - and get out of your head. Doing something is the antidote to rumination whether it is taking a walk, calling a friend, or doodling on your sketch pad. Identifying a quick distraction when you feel yourself getting pulled works every time.

2. You are not responsible for your thoughts. You are in control of them. Second only to ruminating is CATASTROPHIZING (creating end-of-the-world scenarios out of almost any problem) and when these doomsday scenarios get replayed time and again through rumination the dark possibilities become the inevitable. You need an attitude adjustment. So try this tip from Karen Reivich, PhD, co-director of the Penn Resiliency Project at the University of Pennsylvania and coauthor of The Resilience Factor: Exaggerate whatever scenario is troubling you to the most comic extreme you can imagine. You missed a deadline at work and now you are living under a bridge, trapping squirrels for dinner. And then imagine the opposite scenario. The project you are working on hits it big and you are now the CEO of the company. The point is that neither scenario is realistic but it confirms that even though thoughts come into your head, you can do whatever you want to with them. You have power over your thoughts. So if it’s your fantasy, make up something good.

3. Fake it.

Optimists tend to stay with a problem longer, looking for solutions long after pessimists have given up. In fact, in a study of first year law students, optimists’ salary ten years later were significantly better then their pessimistic counterparts. But how to get into that optimistic frame of mind. The answer is -- Fake It! Beginning to act like an optimist puts you into the positive frame of mind or positive feedback loop that keeps optimists going. What’s more, you don’t even have to believe it. Simply acting like an optimist counts and amazingly the corresponding good feelings, and positive energy follow closely behind. Just pretend that whatever is troubling you is going to work out in the best way possible for you. 4. The Quickest Way to Optimism If you want the easiest and fastest way to that positive energy that comes with an optimistic way of thinking try this -- Grab a clean piece of paper and pen Set the timer on your watch for 5 minutes Write down as many things as you can think of for which you are thankful You will be amazed at what you discover, how many wonderful things surround you every minute, and how good you feel. For more tips go to Jane Meredith Adams’ excellent article in Prevention Magazine: “The Pessimist’s Guide to Being Optimistic” (

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