Friday 22nd October 2021

Optimism. 26/51. #LifeThisWeek. 79/2021.

Optimism. 26/51. #LifeThisWeek. 79/2021. 

Bernard, my husband,  has offered to share some thoughts on this week’s optional prompt of optimism. One reason for asking is that I, like many, tend to be more on the pessimistic side and I know his help for me to turn this around at times has been invaluable.

Thank you Bernard.

 

 

What is optimism?

 The prime minister of Great Britain during WW2, Winston Churchill presented as a highly optimistic personality and is notably quoted as saying, “a pessimist sees only difficulty in every opportunity while an optimist sees opportunity in every difficulty.”  The great effect for the nation was the hope that his optimism generated during that tragic conflict.

Most definitions of optimism share common components such as hope and confidence about future positive outcomes. Optimistic philosophers believe that optimism is about good prevailing over evil while the world of psychology is split into two main bands. For some, optimism may be attributed to a belief that experiences will generally have positive outcomes. The second band attributes optimism as having more to do with the way we explain event causes. This is called our explanatory style and its established in early childhood.

Studies tell us that our DNA is more likely to be hardwired as optimistic rather than pessimistic despite the negative bias we also carry around from birth thanks to our cave-dwelling ancestors. Their world abounded with negative experiences and, so, their very survival depended on being prepared for the worst. Decision-making was a little more cut and dried in those days – “Kill the f***king beast before it kills you!!!”

It is fair to say that our levels of optimism are a combination of nature and nurture. Being transmutable, the environment into which we are born and grow up enables optimism to either flourish or flounder. Exposure to risk in childhood encourages the development of a more optimistic mindset as well as creativity.

 

What Does It Mean to Be Optimistic?

Optimists are likely to see the causes of failure or negative experiences as:

  • temporary rather than permanent – “It’s just a minor setback. All will be well tomorrow.”
  • specific rather than global – “It’s just that particular group of people. We won’t be involved.”
  • external rather than internal – “What just occurred wasn’t my fault. It was the extreme heat of the day.”

Such a perspective enables optimists to more easily see the possibility of change.

So long as the optimism isn’t cockeyed as a result of engaging in fanciful thinking, realistic optimism is a worldview that gives its owner a greater sense of influencing their well-being. This flows from optimism being generally accompanied by a healthier outlook in relation to the consequences of any actions. Optimists encourage the growth of resilience as they display a tendency to look for meaning in difficulties.

What are some of the benefits of being realistically optimistic?

An optimist can also expect to:

  • live longer;
  • feel the hope that is necessary to ameliorate doubt and despair;
  • be less susceptible the negative effects of illness, fatigue and depression
  • be able to manage pain more effectively;
  • have improved immunity;
  • have better heart-lung function; and,
  • be fitter.

Can optimism affect relationships?

 You bet, if it’s unrealistic! Where both partners are optimists there is a danger that their positivity about their future can lead to expectations that become too high for anyone to fulfil, especially as such a mindset can discourage the growth of problem-solving skills required during difficult. Being overly sure of a rosy future tends to ignore the very real fact that our journeys through life are littered with difficult times. This is an effective way to lower relational quality.

What’s the key to all this?

So, if there is a question mark over being optimistic, maybe we should just resort to playing it safe all the time and be pessimistic. That way, you wouldn’t have your hopes dashed. It is not advisable that you adopt that strategy.

Pessimism is driven by fear of failure. Living one’s life being afraid to take any risk and assigning reasons why not against any and all plans is quite dysfunctional. You miss out on the thrill of chasing your dreams.

Decision-making that has a good probability of having a positive outcome is cognisant of the evidence that informs that decision-making. Research suggests incorporating some Realism into the conversation is the best way to the try line.

Both optimism and pessimism are judgemental biases that on their own don’t make for effective decision-making. Realism seeks the evidence that short-circuits the psychologically painful consequence and encourages the outcome that is most helpful. In the well-being stakes, realists come out trumps. Talking of Trump – he was not a realist!

We currently are endeavouring to deal with the hot topic of the COVID 19 pandemic. As I’ve already said, both optimism and pessimism are judgemental biases and, therefore, shifting sands upon which to base decisions. Either approach can lead to a failure to take appropriate precautions to a potential threat – “Oh, I don’t need to have the vaccine as I never get the flu!” OR “Having that vaccine is a sure way to make you sick!” A Realist will take measured risks and look at the available evidence before making a decision in relation to treatment. The available evidence suggests that observing suggested protocols such as social distancing and taking advantage of the vaccine is currently the most sensible approach to adopt.

Realistic Optimism has been the key to my well-being.

Through not allowing optimism – nor pessimism for that matter – to escape the realms of realism I have minimised the risk of my hopes being dashed upon the rocks of disappointment. As a result, I have enhanced my level of contented living.

Can my child learn to be realistically optimistic?

Absolutely! As you may know, children see the world quite strictly – it’s either black or white, little or big, fast or slow, good or bad, etc. As they grow older and learn the skills of contrasting and comparing, their perception of the world allows for the integration of degrees in their rules. The black becomes grey. So, a child may be likely to be optimistic or pessimistic. The result of an event will be either good or bad. At this time they are also sponges rabidly attempting to soak up the way the world works so that it makes sense to them. Parents are the greatest authorities and what mum or dad sees is indubitably what will occur.

This, therefore, provides you as a parent with an ideal time to temper their hopes by inculcating their perceptions of event outcomes with Realism.

And in my case, as a grandfather to this youngster way back, where I imagined this conversation.

So, Papa…..

“Papa, I’m ‘cited ‘cos the toof fairy is coming and she will leave me free fousand and firty dollars, won’t she Papa?”

“Well, sweetheart, I’m sure the toof fairy will come but I don’t fink she will leave you wif quite that much. That’s a lot of money! Perhaps, $2 is more like what she will leave.”

 

Recommended Reading

Martin Seligman has spent a great deal of time studying optimism and related topics and has written a number of books that you may be interested in. They include,

  • Flourish
  • The Hope Circuit
  • Learned Optimism
  • The Optimistic Child

Thanks so much Bernard, I have learned more about the ways in which we can develop and change our negative biases as a result of incorporating knowledge rather than accept the ‘Oh I am a pessimist’ self-judgement.

Denyse.

Link Up #246.

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Comments

  1. Bernard, I like our take on realistic optimism. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and recommended reading. Thank you Denyse for featuring Bernard today. #lifethisweek

  2. Hi Bernard & Denyse, it isn’t easy to be optimistic in times such as these so it was lovely to read Bernard’s thoughts. Take care both of you in lockdown (you certainly need positivity this week, don’t you?) and sending hugs. #lifethisweek

    • Denyse Whelan says:

      Thanks so much Sue. Yes, we are going OK but it’s the nuisance factor at times being in lockdown even though we know why!

      Denyse.

    • Good morning, Sue! You’re absolutely right. Times such as we are now dealing with are very challenging and put a lot of strain on our mindsets. Thanks for your feedback.

      Kind regards,

      Bernard

  3. Wow this is exciting – joining the party for the first time in a while and another post from Bernard! I can really see the blog morphing into a Mr and Mrs phase, almost a he said, she said. You both complement each other perfectly, like tea and cake! As a realistic optimist, I find this subject fascinating. Personally, I find optimism very good for my health and although the best case scenarios I hope for, don’t always materialise, I find I am more able to deal with challenges and setbacks as they arise. Looking forward to your next post, Bernard!

    • Denyse Whelan says:

      Lovely words Sammie. Thank you. Glad to see you back here too…of course. Hoping the days and nights go faster for you now and soon you will be back home to hugs from dear David and Teddy.

      Denyse.

    • Hi Sammie!

      From what my little bird has told me you’re just about due for some excitement. Hope you’re starting to catch your breath after your recent challenges. I am greatly heartened to hear that your realistic optimism is contributing to your mental well-being. It certainly helps to ameliorate disappointments and leave you in a more contented place, doesn’t it?

      By the way, tea only goes well with cake if the cake is chocolate!

      Kind regards,

      Bernard.

  4. Really interesting post. A lot to think about there. I love the Churchill quote. I would say the specific rather than global seems a little selfish. In think my optimism comes in part from me trying to make things better for others. My husband always says “You can’t save everyone” and I just think “Well I can save them” or “Not on my watch”. I guess I might wear myself out but I feel good if I feel I’m making a difference, somewhere somehow….I’m also AMAZED Denyse sees herself as a pessimist! I don’t see that at all!

    • Denyse Whelan says:

      How interesting to read this from you too Lydia.

      I am a reformed “saver of everyone” and I have the best teacher….the bloke who wrote the post. He is right and the only person getting hurt was me, when things did not go well. I have learned that for sure.

      I am more of a “what will go wrong” person rather than “what will go right” as my husband will attest BUT I have learned so much about what I can and cannot control in the past 4 years since cancer that perhaps I can be classed as less of a pessimist that I used to be!!

      Denyse.

    • Hello Lydia,

      Thanks for taking the time and effort to read the blog. Churchill actually came up with a few good quotes, e.g. “when you’re going through hell keep going!”

      There’s nothing wrong with trying to make the world a better place. That, in fact, ought to be a universal goal. However, as with optimism, that endeavour needs to be realistic. One of the questions we always need to ask ourselves in relation to this is, “Who am I doing this for?” If the answer to that question is me or even mostly me, maybe we need to take a more critical look at the endeavour. That initial optimism may be misplaced.

      I think you have assessed your situation quite accurately as overly optimistic attempts to help others is a recipe for burn out.

      May you continue to be safe and realistically optimistic, Lydia.

      Kind regards,

      Bernard.

  5. It’s great to see Bernard contributing again. His thoughtful words give much to think about. I’m fairly sure I’m a realistic optimist. I do know that my optimism has helped me survive some tough times. This is a great post Denyse. Take care and stay safe x

    • Denyse Whelan says:

      Thanks Jennifer, that is so good to read.

      I am glad you enjoyed this post from Bernard too.

      He is the ultimate self-carer (and as such teaches me!) so he will be back tomorrow morning to add his replies.

      We are going well, so hope you are too.

      Denyse.

    • Hi Jennifer,

      Thanks for taking the time to read this post. Optimism when it is tempered by realism provides us with sense of stability and ultimately contributes to out level of equanimity.

      May you remain untouched by the virus as it creeps around this great land of ours.

      Kind regards,

      Bernard.

  6. When I saw the prompt, Seligman came to mind immediately. I think sadly people assume optimism = think positively all the time which we all know it’s helpful. I love Seligman’s work and he confesses how he’s actually more on the depressive side but by practising things he researches and preaches, he keeps it at bay and manages to have hope. Lord know we need hope in the current climate!

    Fun fact, I named my private practice after reading a lot of positive psychology and Seligman’s work!

    Hope you have a lovely week ahead Denyse!

    • Denyse Whelan says:

      Thanks Sanch. Yes, good old Martin Seligman. I got to go to a session of his ages ago at Sydney Opera House and it was great. He was, from memory, working and living in a private school in Melbourne sharing his wisdom.

      I always smile about him too as he does confess he is like that as well. Yes, and he recognises it making it all the better for his truth as a researcher and writer.

      That is cool about your practice name too.

      Take care, a good day to be home right now as it’s only 14 as I write.

      Denyse.

    • Hi Sanch,

      Thanks for your response.
      Martin Seligman certainly seems to have cornered the market on this subject. As you say, he is a good example how someone can employ optimism to help combat inner demons.

      Positive Thinking does not equal Positive Psychology. Positive thinking and positive affirmations on their own have little value. The optimism = thinking positively was keyholed by Norman Vincent Peale, a US minister, back in the middle of last century. He made a fortune with his book, The Power of Positive Thinking, convincing people that they just had to think positively about what it is they wanted and it would be manifested. One of his more infamous students was the last president whose name I am unable to say as I don’t swear!

      May you continue to be safe and hang tough, Sanch.

      Kind regards,

      Bernard.

  7. Lovely to see you back here Bernard and such an interesting post too – thank you! I strive to be optimistic but as I’ve gotten older some anxiety has become a part of my life which can sometimes lead to a bit of catastrophizing! This isn’t all the time of course and in fact I am finding more of my optimist self coming through during these Covid times. I think it is the cavewoman survivor side to me that you mentioned. Hope you and Denyse have a great week!

    • Denyse Whelan says:

      Thanks for sharing this Min. Interesting though that you notice how you are feeling and then you can identify it for what it is. Good to know you are managing to get back to your optimistic self too.

      I know I had a lot of that “cavewoman” happening for me in those transition years of 2014-2017.

      Thanks for your good wishes,

      Denyse.

    • Hello Min,

      Thanks for being so kind as the read the blog and comment. It’s lovely to be back and talking with kind and generous people such as you.

      May I suggest that you need to put a harness on that optimism to minimise the “striving”. This will have the added benefit of keeping expectations at a more realistic level. Really pleased to see how well you are handling what is a very challenging time. Remember to be kind to yourself and give yourself a break regularly.

      Not that I am familiar with a lot of cavewomen, Min, but you sure do not match the mental picture I have of such a person.

      May you remain safe and out of reach of Covid’s tentacles as they spread across the world.

      Kind regards,

      Bernard.

  8. I really enjoyed reading this. Bernard should write more – perhaps his own blog! I know that I was way more optimistic when I was younger. I was very carefree and lighthearted. My life has been pretty difficult with the deaths of 3 of my close family and multiple health issues, a divorce and being a sole parent with no support. I developed anxiety and depression which can make me very pessimistic at times. The way I deal with that is that I know it’s up to me to change my circumstances. Most of what I have dealt with is because I work hard to overcome adversity. And accepting that there is a lot that I can’t control. I can only control my reaction to it. I think there is a general pessimism at the moment because of the ongoing pandemic and I’m noticing the affects of that on a lot of people. Mental Health services are busier than ever. Let’s hope there is an end to this soon. Regards, Christina

    • Denyse Whelan says:

      Oh that is good to read that it’s been enjoyable for you to read Christina. I will leave it to Bernard to respond to your suggestion.

      Yes, to how much you have needed to absorb, manage and live with over the years. Quite a lot that many would find a challenge to their beliefs and emotional health. Yet, you know about this and do the work that has to be done for you.

      I think, from all I have read of your life story, you are an awesome example of resilience.

      Denyse.

    • Hello Christina,

      I’m glad you gained some enjoyment from reading the blog. I enjoyed writing it. Thanks for taking the time out to respond.
      I don’t think it’s unusual that our childhood optimism wanes a little under the weight of life’s challenges. And, my goodness, haven’t you had a lot to deal with. Your inner strength is very impressive.
      I agree that the pandemic has brought a cloak of pessimism to the world but with that also comes the opportunity for us to learn more about ourselves and our lifestyle.
      May you feel safe and secure during this uncertain time.
      Kine regards,
      Bernard.

  9. I really enjoyed this post. by Bernard, such wise and a realistic attitude too. My husband is of a similar vein! This line ‘So long as the optimism isn’t cockeyed as a result of engaging in fanciful thinking’ made me smile – I’m sometimes imbued with a fanciful notion or tow and need to come back to the real world. Thanks Bernard for your wise words and joining us all again for #lifethisweek and thanks Denyse for having us all.

    • Denyse Whelan says:

      Ah, yes I do that a bit too Deb. I am now “asked” or I even suggest it to myself, to think about it for 24 hours or sleep on it…and then we review this idea! It works.

      Last year we made a choice not to buy anything on-line in the evening. Ok, it was mostly me, and mostly art materials or books…and so I stopped. I might still browse and bookmark but I no longer buy. Amazingly, it is almost 100% a great decision not to do the purchasing. Who knew??

      Great to see you here as always and Bernard will start some replies over the next few mornings.

      Denyse.

    • Hello Debbie Harris and nice to chat with you again.
      I should have place a rider on that comment. By all means, allow your optimism to be cockeyed and fanciful . Just don’t act on it!”
      Please keep yourself free from the virus.
      Kind regards,
      Bernard.

  10. Hi Bernard – lovely to see you back on Denyse’s blog again sharing your wisdom. I love the term “realistic optimism” – it takes away all the airy fairy “everything will be just perfect” ideals that set you up for disappointment, but doesn’t fall into the “expect nothing and you’ll never be disappointed” train of thought. I think I’ve finally begun to find that balance (with a bit of help from my husband) and we’ve kind of rubbed off on each other a bit too – so we’re getting to be on the same page about most things these days – much like you and Denyse. 🙂

    • Denyse Whelan says:

      I think we can say then, we have made very good ‘matches’ for us, Leanne!!

      Thank you.

      Bernard will be back with replies over the next few mornings.

      Denyse.

    • Hi Leanne,
      Nice to be back and sharing a chat with all of Denyse’s lovely friends.
      I must have a word with Denyse about this “same page’!
      Stay safe,
      Kind regards,
      Bernard.

  11. Exhaustive information about the topic, Bernard has articulated so well. I enjoyed reading this post!

    • Denyse Whelan says:

      Thanks so much for finding it of interest Shiju.

      My husband is a man of great knowledge and wisdom.

      Denyse.

      • Hi Shiju,
        Thanks for taking time out to read the blog.
        Thanks also for your pithy assessment.
        Hope the virus hasn’t and doesn’t catch up with you.
        Kind regards,
        Bernard.

  12. I tended to be more pessimistic when I was younger and have been consciously working to be more optimistic these past 5-10 years.

    • Denyse Whelan says:

      I think I understand that very well too Joanne. Similar experiences.

      Thank you.

      Denyse.

      • Hi Joanne,
        Keep working on it. Sure sounds like you’re headed in the right direction.
        May you remain safe in this highly uncertain time.
        Kind regardws,
        Bernard.

  13. I had never heard that Churchill quote but I love it. I like the term realistic optimist too. I was a pessimist for most of my life until I consciously began practicing positive psychology. I am much happier now! I do however live with a pessimist. Yes, it was interesting when we were BOTH pessimists… now I’m the optimist and he is still the pessimist. And interestingly, I now find his always pessimistic approach frustrating!

    • Denyse Whelan says:

      Ah Patricia, such an interesting comment about you and your partner.

      You have put in those years of learning and practising and now, look at you flourish.

      Denyse.

    • Hi Patricia,
      Thanks for your interest in the blog. The optimist/pessimist combination is actually a pretty good one as your collaborative decision-making should manifest itself in realism.
      Hang in there and stay safe.
      Kind regards, Bernard

  14. Wow! What a beautifully written piece. I so enjoyed reading your thoughts on optimism. Certainly made me think. The ‘Toof Fairy’ story had me feeling all the feels with Bernard’s gentle expression instilling optimism.

    Thank you Denyse and Bernard. Xx

    • Thanks so much Sandra. He has a way with words alright and is indeed a gentle carer of the little ones …who are now, all big!! Still “their” Papa though, or Pups as many have shortened his name!

      Denyse.

    • Right back at ya, Sandra. I appreciate your making the effort to read the blog.
      Did you not have a ‘toof’ fairy? We were actually too poor so were not introduced to this materialistic concept. It wasn’t until I met Denyse that the tooth fairy emerged as a salient force in my life.
      Seriously, it is childhood where the learning of realistic optimism begins.
      I hope you remain healthy and free from the ravages of the pandemic.
      Kind regards,
      Bernard.

  15. Enjoyed your post and the posts of many of the folks linked up with you this week. I haven’t posted in over a week. LIFE. But optimistically hopeful that I will get something written later tonight…

    It was a joy to meet Bernard, to put a face with his wise words. You are a delightful couple and I imagine you complement each other very well. As my Prince Charming complements me, too. The calm to my storm. And because I have weathered a number of storms, I am more a realistic than a pure optimistic or pessimist.

    • Thank you so much for your kind and caring words Leslie. Life seems to be overwhelming in some ways as the weather is getting far too hot for anyone’s liking as I see via the news channels and updates from friends.

      We are in the midst of winter but Covid has come calling again (and it’s the delta strain) and we, as a country, are trying to get vaccinated. Sigh. At least we “oldies” are done.

      That is so lovely of you to observe about us. We are, in some ways complete opposites, but having shared over 50 years of marriage with its different challenges we are actually closer these days and enjoy the times we have with humour, gratitude and a sense of fun.

      Stay safe and well. Thanks too for joining in with Index Card a Day!

      Denyse.

    • Hi Leslie,
      Thanks for your response and generous compliments.
      There’s nothing like a tornado to put optimism in its place. I am so pleased to hear you have a calm to to help deal with those storms, especially if he is a Prince.
      May you remain safe in these difficult times.
      Kind regards.
      Bernard.