Optimism vs Pessimism : How to Unlock the ‘Sunny Side’ of Your Brain
Do you know anyone in your life who just happens to see the positive side of everything? No matter what happens to them, they can see why it was supposed to happen that way? That’s my husband, Johnny. He is Mr. Happy EVEN when actually the ending looked to be the opposite. From burst tyres, to lost luggage, to even bigger things like not getting a sought-after job, or missing a flight – somehow he’s always able to tell me why that ‘thing’ was actually really good because it lead to A, B and C.
It’s quite amazing.
I see myself as a realistic optimist, whereas he is a pure optimist through and through. Our friends often say they wish they could be a bit more like him.
And they can. The thing is that many people believe you are either an optimist, a realist or a pessimist. You’re that way and that’s just the way you’re going to stay. This is an example of ‘fixed mindset’ thinking – when we think things can’t change. But the truth is we can actually train ourselves to be an optimistic thinker if we want to, which is great news for us all!
The diagram above shows the three component parts that make up our mindset. Our mindset is the framework that governs our experiences in the world and they form our attitudes and beliefs (empowering beliefs and limiting beliefs that shape our thinking habits). The truth is that often, when we aren’t getting the outcomes we want in life, it’s a mindset adjustment that’s required. Operating in a different mindset to the one you typically use can unlock the ability and the potential for you to achieve things that are currently just outside of your reach.
Yes, it takes some effort (and patience) and a genuine desire to develop yourself to undo the years of seeing things one way, but it absolutely is possible. For some people, it literally changes their lives. They end up making very different decisions about where to spend time their time, which careers to pursue and who to spend their life with.
When I first started studying optimism, I was genuinely surprised to discover that the definition is not actually all about seeing the bright side of everything. What’s truly distinctive about an optimist is not that they have a rainbow-filled outlook, but that they choose to interpret situations in a different way and they bounce back from setbacks with a different attitude. They face an equal number of unfortunate incidents as pessimistic people, they just respond to life differently and so you perceive them to be more lucky because they don’t ‘get so affected’ by negative events.
They DO feel the impact of bad things: they’re human of course. But what happens is they choose to try and disassociate or disown the bad stuff (where possible) and own the good stuff that happens to them.
It’s all about how you ‘label’ what happens to you in your mind. Have a look at this:
Where does your thinking sit? You might have a default setting so far in life, but only because you haven’t examined it closely yet. Being quite far along the pessimistic end of the scale is arguably a form of self-sabotage. Remember, how you interpret challenges, setbacks, and criticism is your choice! Your mindset and your outlook literally determines your performance in all areas of your life. Isn’t that worth thinking about?
“Every successful person you know has failed at what they were trying to do. The great people are the ones who keep going, are persistent, learn from failure and are tenacious. We’re so used to the idea that our talent is fixed, but people who are innately talented still need to go beyond the basic talent that they have and cultivate it.” John Legend
If you want to learn how to train your thinking to be more optimistic, then check out this short animation, which explains Martin Seligman’s approach.
And if you feel like digging deeper into the topic, I highly recommend the book Rainy Brain, Sunny Brain by psychologist & neurologist Elaine Fox.
Feel free to leave your thoughts, observations and questions in the comment section below.