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Optimism: Is It Innate or Learned?

Optimism:  Is It Innate or Learned?

It’s not a stretch to say that every one of us could probably think of someone we know that we consider an optimist.  Do these optimists have a hidden talent, are they simply following a foolish hope, are they born with this quality?  Last year Boston University published a study confirming individuals with greater optimism are more likely to live longer and to achieve exceptional longevity.  

The definition of optimism is hopefulness and confidence about the future or the successful outcome of something". 

Seems like a stretch for anyone to adopt that optimistic outlook right now, especially those who consider themselves pessimists. 

But NPR’s All Things Considered reports optimism can be learned and that it isn’t necessarily a personality trait. Researchers claim that it comes down to a person’s “explanatory styles”, which relate to how you unconsciously explain or think about an unfavorable event that happened to you: 

  1. whether it is permanent or temporary (for example a hangover is not permanent, and most people perceive that event as something that will eventually pass, while some events may be perceived as permanent)  
  2. whether you think you have the ability to control the outcome or not 
  3. whether this is something that happens to you all the time or just this once 

When studied, it was found that those subjects who tended to perceive problems as temporary, controllable and happening just that one time were strongly associated with those who also were seen as optimists.  As a practicing optimist, you’re looking to re-frame a situation with these explanatory styles to have a healthier paradigm when managing stressful situations. Learning to change your thought patterns on these three aspects can change your contentment and happiness level for the rest of your life, but it takes practice.  Many of us aren’t natural optimists and especially struggle with having hope during a difficult time like this.

The goal is to practice optimism so that one day you wake up and are the living embodiment of optimism.  The "Optimist Creed", a poem by Christian Larson, offers these wise guidelines for your practice:

“Promise yourself to be so strong so that nothing can disturb your peace of mind, to be just as enthusiastic about the success of others as you are about your own, to be too large for worry, too noble for anger, too strong for fear, and too happy to permit the presence of trouble.

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