"Two men look out through the same bars: One sees the mud, and one sees the stars." -Frederick Langbridge, A Cluster of Quiet Thoughts
r and force of optimism can never be underestimated. In fact, your personal development and growth over your lifetime depends upon it. When you are able to see the positive in every situation, you are better equipped to recognize and take advantage of opportunities that come your way. In other words, you are more able to spring into positive action in the face of life’s challenges. Plenty of research has been done that shows how optimism plays a big role in higher achievement.
Perhaps the most significant aspect of optimism is its power to transform the negative thoughts in our heads. Negative self-talk completely limits our ability to think creatively and get ourselves out of sticky situations. When we push forward in the face of negative self-talk, we are practicing optimism. Positive self-talk greatly increases our chances of success and of moving forward in tough situations. The very fuel of success is our optimistic belief that we can impact situations and play a role in the outcome of our lives. When things begin to look dark and your mind is concocting every possible negative outcome, look for the rainbow of optimism that is always available in your mind.
“Live long and prosper”
There are so many aspects of your life that can be positively impacted with optimism. Success in relationships, working environments, finances, and health are all incredibly sensitive to your level of optimism. Take, for instance, sales: A study of the sales personnel at Metropolitan Life Insurance were tested for optimism and success ratios. Those who scored the highest level of optimism sold a whopping 37 percent more life insurance than those who scored as pessimists (Seligman, 1990). There was another study done on debt collectors in a large, competitive agency. The most successful collectors in the agency were shown to have much higher scores in the areas of optimism, independence, and self-actualization (Bachman et al., 2000).
One very significant study shed light on the power of optimism to nourish healthy relationships, physical vitality, and longevity. In the famous book by Dr. George E. Vaillant called
The Wisdom of the Ego
, the Harvard medical professor talks about individuals who have "both the capacity to be bent without breaking and the capacity, once bent, to spring back.” Vaillant talks about our greatest source of resilience coming from our internal capacity for optimism.
In Dr. Vaillant's next book,
Aging Well: Surprising Guideposts to a Happier Life
, he takes it even a step further. The Doctor conducts three studies with 800 people of all different backgrounds and genders who were researched for 50 years of their lives. The study followed them from adolescence through old age, and it was discovered that the most important factor involved in healthy aging was each one’s ability to "make lemonade out of life's lemons.” That is the very simplest definition of optimism!
Research is still coming in proving that optimism is a huge factor in increasing longevity. The last study done at Wageningn University in the Netherlands took 999 old Dutch men and women. The predicting factor of their longevity was their agreement with the statement—“I still have goals to strive for.” When subjects were tested 9 years after their survey, the death rates of the optimistic men were 63 percent lower than those who had not agreed with the optimistic statement 9 years earlier. Women were 35 percent lower. What makes the difference between optimistic and pessimistic people in terms of longevity? It’s generally believed that the optimists avoided unhealthy life choices that pessimists might have gone for.
Our optimistic nation
It is said that America was born in the spirit of optimism. After all, Thomas Jefferson coined the term
life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness
, which is the very nature of optimism. The Puritans valued self-help and optimism. The Godly life they pursued was one that was built on the belief in themselves and in their society. Benjamin Franklin was the great captain of individualism and self-industry. His value placed on perseverance and self-initiative is still great inspiration for optimism today. In fact, the spirit of this nation is built upon the idea of the
. This kind of man knows no bounds. When life throws him for a loop, he gets on his horse like a true cowboy and rides off to save the day. The founders of America were practicing optimists—it was their religion.
As Americans, we naturally believe in happy endings. The American author Mary McCarthy once said a “happy ending is our national belief.” Our culture is naturally very optimistic compared to other countries. McCarthy makes reference in one of her books to famous children's stories like
The Little Engine That Could
. “I think I can, I think I can” is what the train chants as it chugs along with self-assurance. Optimism is thoroughly built into U.S. culture, and it has been from the very beginning.
So if a nation as big and prosperous as the U.S. was built on optimism, what could the power of optimism do in our individual lives? The fact of the matter is that everyone suffers and experiences tragedy—these things are naturally a part of life as we know it, whether it is physical, emotional, or spiritual. The good news about our problems is that they’re relative. There’s always someone who has it worse. Things always could have been more terrible. When we address problems effectively and with optimism, we are able to see life’s roughest challenges in a new light. We are able to see what’s possible amidst what seems never ending and horrible.
Look to the future
There’s a lot of buzz these days around the whole concept of the Law of Attraction, which states if you feel the positive outcome you wish to achieve and believe it will come to pass, you will eventually attract that reality into your life. This is a fancy form of optimism. When you are optimistic, you believe that there will be a positive outcome. When you believe that there will be a positive outcome, you are more likely to act in the positive manner that will bring about the outcome you hope for. The future is said to be determined by whether a person strives or yields. With optimism, you always push ahead and therefore achieve what you’re looking for.
There was an interesting study done by Robert Shuman in 1979 that speaks about the loss of optimism. When Shuman was practicing psychology at a children’s hospital, he suffered from great mental torment and was hospitalized for back pain. He was later diagnosed with debilitating multiple sclerosis. He fell into a state of great helplessness, anguish, and torment, and decided to document these feelings that he knew so many others in similar chronic situations were plagued with. His notes culminated in his book
The Psychology of Chronic Illness
. Shuman’s book was significant because it brought to our understanding how chronic illness with no cure ruins optimism in individuals—perhaps for the rest of their lives. Once power over our own lives is lost, our optimism is lost as well.
The power of optimism is the power to successfully navigate and overcome life’s greatest challenges. Optimism can be learned. You need not be a born optimist to experience the benefits of optimism. In reality, optimism is a choice that we can all make. We all have the power to observe our negative thoughts and compulsive actions. We have the power to be aware of ourselves and our past that influences our current actions. When we are finally able to clearly see what we are doing and understand what we are thinking, we then have the power to choose optimism.
© Copyright 2010, Alexandria K. Brown