If for no other reason than sheer entertainment, you should flip open Martin Seligman’s Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life to the pessimism test to see where you rate on the scale of Pessimistic Vs Optimistic. It’s a simple series of questions that you answer using more intuition than facts. The test rates you on several different aspects of optimism/pessimism. An overall score of ten is extremely optimistic, and a score of zero is extremely pessimistic.
I scored negative two.
My immediate thought was “That test sucks” which (if you think about it) confirms the accuracy of my score. Anyway, I’d always thought that my pessimism was a trait as predetermined as my eye color and not much could be done to change it. Until I read this book.
Unlike other psychologists who labored over making troubled people ‘normal,’ Martin Seligman researched how to make the normal life better, breaking himself away from the “Self Help” genre and into “Self Improvement.” In his studies, he uncovered the causes and effects of pessimism, as well as tools pessimists can use to break their own negative cycles and become less pessimistic. He calls this ability Learned Optimism.
Why In The Hell Should I Be Optimistic?
Lets be optimistic about pessimism for a moment. Why should I change my thinking habits? Maybe I like being a pessimist!
And being pessimistic about optimism for a moment, is too much optimism such a good thing? Dr Seligman did extensive research that proved optimists are less likely to see the world and the problems in it as accurately as pessimists do.
So why be more optimistic? The answer is: Depression.
Much of Learned Optimism details scientific studies done by Martin himself on behavior, optimism, pessimism, and their relation to depression. His years of research can’t be overlooked: Pessimists are less healthy, less likely to be chosen as leaders, and more prone to depression than optimists. Martin proposes that pessimism is the primary cause of depression.
Americans by and large don’t have a problem with pessimism. Wait, let me rephrase that. The depression rate and the suicide rate in the United States have climbed significantly over the past decade, so Americans do have a problem with pessimism. According to Dr Seligman, if you can change the way you think to become more optimistic, you can affect your health, your relationships and your career in a positive way.
If you want the good stuff, flip to the last few chapters of Learned Optimism, where Martin Seligman sums up the results of a decade of research. His findings suggest that the way you explain the world to yourself, and the amount of time you spend ruminating on events has a large bearing on your optimism. Lucky for you, Learned Optimism has tips and tactics on how to undo your internal programming and overcome these limiting behaviors.
Does it work? Will it blend? Maybe if you’re optomistic. I wish I were kidding.
Some might recall the fad of Neuro-Linguistic Programming (made popular in the 90’s by Tony Robbins and others) and how “affirmations” and methods of talking to yourself would change your life. I hope everyone knows that saying “I have an Invisible Flying Pony” over and over with conviction will not make it true. I doubt saying “Every Day, In Every Way, I’m Getting Better And Better” will work either.
Then again, on the pessimist test I scored negative two on a scale of zero to ten.