An Attitude of Optimism

Earlier we discussed the concept of meaningful experiences, or what researchers call optimal experiences. These optimal experiences are most likely to occur when people are stretched to their physical and mental limits. Because of the challenging nature of these activities, optimal experiences produce intensely positive emotions. Interestingly, the same difficult endeavors that can produce those positive emotions have the potential to produce negative ones as well.

Families can easily be compared to optimal experiences; they have the potential to produce intensely positive or intensely negative emotions. Leaders in psychology suggest the difference in emotion is determined by how we interpret challenges. This is especially applicable to families trying to adapt to change, or who are experiencing crisis. And contrary to popular belief, changing our surroundings (i.e., when the challenge goes away) doesn’t always ensure we will be happier. Instead, the key lies in changing how we explain our surrounding situation.

Explaining our environment can be summed up in three concepts: permanence, pervasiveness, and personalization. Permanence deals with time and your belief concerning whether the situation is permanent or temporary. Consider Jimmy Dean’s famous words, “I can’t change the direction of the wind, but I can adjust my sails to always reach my destination” as an example of positive explanatory style. Pervasiveness has to do with space; is the situation global or specific? And personalization regards whether the cause of the negative situation is internal or external. Check out life coach Loretta LaRoche’s video commentary on the three Ps.

We learn our explanatory habits; we learn to rely either on optimism or pessimism. And because we learn these habits, we can change them. Changing your explanatory style from pessimistic to optimistic can have incredible outcomes like improved physical and mental health, and it’s something you can teach your children. Research shows children learn how they explain negative situations from their mothers in particular.

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