Opting for Optimism!

By Ibrahim Mango,

Life Coach & Positive Psychologist

Does adopting an optimistic attitude lead to increased success and improved health?

Ancient wisdom teaches us the value of optimism and today’s top psychologists, doctors

and executives agree. 

Omar and Fahed who work in different departments at the same company get laid off from their jobs due to downsizing.

Omar takes the news personally even though the company has always regarded him as a conscientious, productive employee. The layoffs are part of the company’s restructuring plan to reduce costs; they are not related to his performance. Omar spends his days replaying in his mind how bad this situation is while watching television and eating crisps. He wrongly assumes that he has been laid off because of his poor performance on the job, that he will be out of a job for a long time and that all aspects of his life will be negatively affected.

Fahed, on the other hand, understands that the layoffs are not related to his performance and that there is a possibility that the company might take him back soon, which is what usually happens during downsizing. Even so, he applies for new jobs, spends quality time with his family and goes back to his exercise routine which he could not always maintain during the busy days he was working for the company. He sees this setback as belonging to only one aspect of his life.

Are humans hard wired to a certain fixed degree of optimism?

Traditional psychologists say yes and that the degree of optimism cannot be changed in adulthood. However, Positive Psychologist Dr Martin Seligman, author of Learned Optimism, explains that what differentiates optimists from pessimists is their explanatory style – the way they explain the events in their lives. By changing the way they explain these events, they can become more optimistic.

Everyone experiences setbacks and failures but optimists:

1. Don’t take failures and setbacks personally (they are not caused by them)

2. See them as temporary (they will last for a short time)

3. Regard them as non-pervasive (they affect only one specific area in their lives)

Pessimists, on the other hand, see setbacks as personal, permanent and pervasive.

Omar and Fahed experienced the same setback, but their explanatory style was different; Omar’s was that of a pessimist and Fahed’s was that of an optimist. This makes a world of difference!

Optimists are healthier

Optimistic people tend to take better care of their health, are often more resilient when it comes to dealing with stress and are likely to suffer less from cardiovascular disease than pessimistic people. Optimists generally have better physical and psychological wellbeing, live longer and are happier than their pessimists’ counterparts. They expect a better future so they try harder in the face of setbacks because they expect that if they try again, they are likely to get ahead, which is why they are more successful.

Thus, the research suggests that the Islamic proverb is indeed correct: “Be optimistic and you will find goodness.”