Optimism combines the element of hope with the notion that it’s the best world that we can access right now; so straight away there is some balance between hope and acceptance of what is, which pessimists don’t tend to consider.

Studies have considered optimism as an inherent trait, suggesting some of have it in spades and others simply have very low levels of it. Consider your friends and family- can you identify the optimists and the eternal pessimists of your social groups? Which one are you? Or are you on a sliding spectrum depending on the situation?

Scheier and Carver, (1985) found that Optimists had a tendency for more caring attitudes, were more robust in stressful situations and were inclined to use more fitting coping strategies. Peterson and Seligman, (1987) found that Optimists tended to believe that negative events do not repeat themselves, are not limiting of a person’s capabilities and they believe they are not responsible for any negative events that happen to them. What would it be like to truly not blame ourselves for everything bad that happens?

I find this interesting that there is this perception that we can own positive things that happen to us but can disown negative events. I also see the danger in not taking responsibility or shifting responsibility away from us where we may have played a part in our situation (Responsibility blog).

This is contrary to what I see in the therapy room; clients tend to collect and bag-up all the negative events that happen to them and believe they are to blame for all aspects of the situations, whereas the good things are inconstant, and they refuse to own the good things alongside the bad. There is a refusal to accept, particularly when we are in a low mood, that we can be responsible for anything good, that goodness is so fleeting that often it is intangible and slips through our fingers. It’s contrary because generally a client’s mental health is not in a healthy place- so to own goodness when you feel like the world is imploding around you is something of a ridiculous notion. The difficulty clients face is hearing the good, because when they feel low, they have a negative bias of being drawn to things that match their mood.

Much research has been conducted on the correlation between optimism and well-being (see reference below) but importantly what is being promoted now, as mental health starts to take more of a centre stage in everyday life, is that if steps can be taken that encourage taking control, empowerment and engagement with identity, then individuals can make marked improvements in their attitudes, thoughts and behaviours towards themselves and their world. Situations are not permanent, they can be fluid if action is taken.

As private practice grows I’m finding more and more clients have a disengagement from themselves and as such, feel hopeless about their situations. If you don’t know who you are, then how can you know what you want or where you’d like to be in life? I find that the more identity is explored the more clients have the confidence to start making small changes, and when these experiments start to pay off then hope grows and optimism grows because they have evidence that they can change themselves and their world. Regardless of where you think optimism might live, as a trait, disguised as an infrequent visitor or if it follows you around as friend, if you can find (or work on) your purpose, take responsibility and consider the fluidity of life rather than the rigidity, then you can start to move forward with hope, with optimism.

Conversano, C., Rotondo, A., Lensi, E., Della Vista, O., Arpone, F., & Reda, M. A. (2010). Optimism and its impact on mental and physical well-being. Clinical practice and epidemiology in mental health: CP & EMH, 6, 25–29. doi:10.2174/1745017901006010025


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