Benefits of Optimism
An optimistic framework is one in which we believe the future will work out. Optimism is not thinking that everything is always rosy. It is about thinking that something good is right around the corner, fostering self-efficacy and resilience.
Like other protective factors, optimism is related to both better physical and mental health. While it is partially a result of genetics and the environment, optimism is not purely hard-wired and can be changed with deliberate practice.
True optimism acknowledges difficulty, while believing things will work out. In the midst of a challenge, true optimism asks, “What could go right?” It also recognizes that good things do not happen on their own. Hard work and preparation are critical for optimism to be more than wishful thinking. Naive optimism, on the other hand, is ignorant of suffering and tries to put a positive spin on every situation.
Optimism reflects how we attribute causes and blame in different situations. Someone with a pessimistic style attributes the cause of bad news to themselves (rather than circumstances or the environment), assumes it is stable across time, and will affect everything in the person's life. Someone with an optimistic attribution style recognizes adverse events as not necessarily caused by themselves, temporary, and affecting only a part of their lives.
Source Credit: Yuan and Wang, 2016
Books on Optimism
Most books are available at the Livermore Public Library
by Kobi Yamada Year Published: 2016
A book about a boy who encounters a problem and learns to see the opportunity in any challenge.
by Martin Seligman, PhD Year Published: 1995
Dr. Seligman shows adults how to teach the skills of optimism that have been proven to safegaurd against depression and build resilience. Drawing on positive psychology research, Dr. Seligman highlights the ways an optimistic framework support children's mental and physical health.
Talking with Your Children
Optimistic and pessimistic worldviews can be easily taught and passed on from parents to children. Kids frequently pick up the subtle and not-so-subtle ways the adults in their lives approach the world. The best way to foster an optimistic mindset in kids is to model it yourself.
To help deliberately develop an optimistic framework, as your child moves into a difficult moment, try asking, “What could go right in this situation?” After visualizing a positive outcome, try brainstorming together what your child can do to thrive in the situation (“What do we need to do for things to work out?”).
After difficult moments, help your child attribute the causes appropriately. Allow them to recognize that adverse circumstances are a result of numerous factors and not solely their own failures. Demonstrate that adverse circumstances are not everlasting and will not affect everything that they do--they are limited in scope and domain.
After accomplishments, help your child attribute their successes to their hard work. Emphasize that in the future hard work can lead to similar outcomes across multiple activities.
Source Credit: Greater Good Science Center
Three Good Things
A simple way to begin to train optimism is through the “Three Good Things” exercise. Every night right down three things that went well during the day and their causes. If you are doing this with your child, ask them as they are preparing for bed about three things that went well and discuss the causes.
Try practicing for a week and see what happens. You will likely find that you become a “detective for good” throughout the day. This intervention has shown to increase happiness and decrease depression.
Source Credit: Seligman, Steen, Park & Peterson, 2005