“Pessimistic prophecies are self-fulling.” Martin Seligman, Ph.D.

The topic of optimism reminds me of the common quote: “Life is what you make of it.” How one recovers from life events makes a critical impact. My summer reading currently consists of Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life written by Martin Seligman, Ph.D. He is the father of the positive psychology movement. This book is highly recommended if you are interested in learning how to identify pessimistic tendencies and skills to develop more optimistic thinking patterns.

The Optimist vs The Pessimist

“The defining characteristic of pessimists is that they tend to believe bad events will last a long time, will undermine everything they do, and are their own fault. The optimists, who are confronted with the same hard knocks of this world, think about misfortune in the opposite way. They tend to believe defeat is just a temporary setback, that its causes are confined to this one case…defeat is not their fault…Confronted by a bad situation, they perceive it as a challenge and try  harder.” – Martin Seligman, Ph.D.

Do you identify with the quote above? Which camp do you typically fall into? You are not in the minority if you overwhelmingly fall into the pessimist camp. For the most part, we are all inclined to pessimistic tendencies. However, how deeply rooted those tendencies are remains to be seen in how one manages any given challenge. Do you have a tendency to throw up your hands in despair or is there a belief that everything will work out for the best? What category are you versus the category you would like to be?

Empirical Evidence

In his book, Dr. Seligman refers to hundreds of studies where the findings lend support to claims that optimists enjoy an overall better quality of life compared to pessimists. As a result, some of those proven benefits include:

  • Excel in school, college, and work
  • Regularly exceed predictions of aptitude tests
  • More likely to succeed in public office
  • Good health
  • Age well
  • More prone to be free from aging impairments
  • Prone to living longer

Many of the same studies also showed evidence that pessimists tend to give up more easily and are more prone to depression.

Overcoming Helplessness

Helplessness is the state of affairs in which nothing you choose  to do affects what happens to you.” – Martin Seligman, Ph.D.

Dr. Seligman brings up the notion of helplessness because many events and happenings in life are beyond our control (i.e., physical features, external events, acts of nature). However, we can take control over our actions. He states that these actions involve the way we live our lives, deal with others, and make our living. Essentially, all aspects of living contain some degree of choice.

The idea and the belief that nothing you do matters can have a defeating effect. According to Dr. Seligman, we can counter such negative thoughts and beliefs by habitually believing the opposite. You are what you think. Therefore, if we develop positive dialog and cognitive skills to foster optimism, there is no telling what limits can be exceeded. Habits are fostered in our thinking.

In conclusion, one of the take home messages of this book is that pessimism is escapable. This is incredible given how deeply rooted and engrained pessimistic tendencies may be. My next blog will expand on ways to overcome pessimism.

For questions or if you are seeking support in improving your perspective on life, please contact the Amy Wine Counseling Center at (832) 421-8714.