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Developing Learned Optimism: Yes, This Can Be Learned

The term “learned helplessness” has gained popularity in recent years. With many negative influences, people can feel like they cannot overcome these barriers to change their perspective. Psychologist Dr. Martin Seligman coined the term “learned optimism” as a contrast.

According to Seven Summit Pathways, “Learned optimism is the process of recognizing and challenging pessimistic thoughts in order to develop more positive behaviors. This concept…aims to help people find new ways to manage tough situations and improve their overall well-being.”

Adopters of learned optimism develop the ability to view the world from a “glass half-full” perspective. By challenging previously practiced negative self-talk and replacing pessimistic thoughts with more positive ones, individuals become happier and more content, regardless of negative variables.

Dr. Seligman & The Origins of Optimism

Learned optimism is a concept that emerged out of the relatively young branch of psychology known as “positive psychology.” According to Seligman, the father of the positive psychology movement, learning to be optimistic helps people maximize their mental health and live better lives.

optimistic teenager making a silly face

Five Benefits of Optimism

There are numerous benefits to becoming a more optimistic person. Some of the many advantages of optimism that researchers have discovered include:

  1. Decreased stress levels. Optimists not only experience less stress, but they also cope with it better. They tend to be more resilient and recover more quickly from setbacks. Rather than becoming overwhelmed and discouraged by adversity, they focus on making positive changes to improve their lives.
  2. Longer lifespans. Studies have shown that optimistic people tend to live longer than pessimists.
  3. Better overall health outcomes. Research has found that optimism played a significant role in health outcomes for cardiovascular disease, cancer, pain, physical symptoms, and mortality.
  4. Better mental health. Optimists report higher levels of well-being than pessimists. Research also suggests that teaching learned optimism techniques could significantly reduce depression.
  5. Higher motivation. Becoming more optimistic can also help  bolster your motivation when pursuing goals. The focus is on making positive changes rather than only thinking about the obstacles in front of them.
optimistic girl blowing a dandelion

Reverse Pessimism with the Three P’s

Optimists and pessimists present a few important differences identified by Dr. Sigelman. The differences reveal themselves in how they explain life events:

  • Pervasiveness. When optimists experience failure in one area, it does not influence their beliefs about their abilities in other areas. Pessimists view setbacks as more pervasive, indicating that if they fail at one thing they will fail at everything.
  • Personalization. When things go wrong, optimists tend to lay the blame on external forces or circumstances. Pessimists are more likely to blame themselves for unfortunate events. In terms of event outcomes, optimists often view positive ones as being a result of their own efforts, while pessimists link good outcomes to external influences.
  • Permanence. Optimists bounce back quickly after bad times, while pessimists are more likely to see difficult events as permanent and unchangeable. Giving up may be a pessimist’s response to the situation. 

Find Reasons to be Optimistic

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