People overcome adversity every day. This also means that bad things happen to people every day. Despite this inevitability, most people have an optimistic frame of mind. A study published in the Journal of Personality found that 89% of people believed their future was going to be good or better than their current situation. This trend of positivity was consistent across national borders. Surprisingly, per-capita G.D.P and life expectancy had virtually no effect on this widespread optimism.
Optimism may actually be a large reason people can overcome so many obstacles. Optimism correlates with higher life expectancy, better health, and greater resilience in adverse situations. The tendency to view future events more positively than previous events is an important survival mechanism. While there is an evolutionary background to why we are optimists, optimism is very much a learned activity.
Positive psychology is a branch of cognitive therapy aimed at teaching people to think positively. Martin Seligman explains it in his books Learned Optimism and The Optimistic Child. The basic idea is that positive thinking yields positive beliefs, which in turn lead to positive results. The cognitive process involves recognizing the negative belief after an adverse moment, analyze the negative consequence of that belief, dispute it, and notice how a more positive belief feels energizing. Put another way, it is realizing how negative beliefs can become self-fulfilling prophecies.
True optimism is not as simple as thinking that everything is going to go well. That is delusional. If you don’t even think about the inevitability of obstacles, you will take unnecessary risks. You will have no plan for when these obstacles arise. True optimism is seeing the beauty in these obstacles. Being optimistic means believing life will work out in spite of, or even because of, the hard times. Those are the times when we find out who we really are. We have every reason to be optimistic in the face of these events, because time and again we find that we are capable of much more than we had imagined.
Psychology Today, Cognitive Optimism Versus Zen Wisdom: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/unified-theory-happiness/201306/cognitive-optimism-versus-zen-wisdom
Psychology Today, The Neuroscience of Optimism: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/brain-babble/201208/the-neuroscience-optimism
Fox News, Positive Thinking May increase Effectiveness of Migraine Drugs: http://www.foxnews.com/health/2014/01/09/positive-thinking-may-increase-effectiveness-migraine-drugs/
The Huffington Post, Optimism Health Benefits: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/05/08/optimism-health-benefits_n_3230715.html
Positive Psychology U.K. Optimism and Pessimism: http://positivepsychology.org.uk/pp-theory/optimism/98-optimism-and-pessimism.html
Academy of Finland, Social Optimism During Studies Supports School-to-work Transition: http://www.aka.fi/en-GB/A/Academy-of-Finland/Media-services/Releases1/Social-optimism-during-studies-supports-school-to-work-transition/
Team Management Systems Global, Optimism: It’s role in the workplace: http://www.tms.com.au/tms10z.html