Optimism: From Hopeless to Hopeful

Every relationship needs at least one optimist … or better yet … two!

Every committed relationship needs at least one optimist, or the relationship may fail when facing adversity.

Dr. Martin Seligman, who wrote the book on optimism — Learned Optimism — says that research has proven that the combination of two pessimists in a relationship will cause the partnership to fail. As long as there is one optimist, there can be a successful relationship.

Pessimists don’t bounce back from adversity very well. Worse yet, two pessimists bring each other down when adversity strikes.

If one of the partners is optimistic, the optimist can keep the pessimist from being defeated by life’s bumps and surprises. Two optimists can rebound faster than one. Optimists help each other bounce back, just like two pessimists sink each other further into hopelessness.

What do the findings on optimism mean to you?

First, you need to find out if you and your partner are optimists or pessimists.

If at least one of you is an optimist — and you keep your ratio of positive to negative interactions at 5 to 1 or more — you’ve got this relationship thing licked. It’s very likely your relationship will endure.

If both of you are optimists, and you keep your positivity ratio above 5 to 1, then your relationship can not only thrive, but can get happier and happier for the rest of your days.

If you're not sure, you can find out. Go Dr. Seligman’s site and take the optimism test at AuthenticHappiness.

One way to become more optimistic is to read Seligman’s book, Learned Optimism. Or, find a Seligman trained coach or teacher who can walk you through it.

Can you learn to be more optimistic by yourself?

Sure. Many people have become more optimistic by learning the differences between pessimistic thinking and optimistic thinking, and using “self-disputation” to change their thoughts.

Here, in broad strokes are the differences between how optimists and pessimists think:

Me vs. Not Me

Let’s say someone is laid off from his job. A pessimist would tend to blame himself. He “explains” it to himself and others as what he did or didn’t do that caused him to get laid off. His thinking, or way of “explaining,” being laid off will likely damage his confidence.

The optimist will think, ”It was the economy, or the industry, or bad management, but it wasn’t me.” So, the optimist doesn’t feel defeated, and his confidence is undamaged.

Always vs. Not always

A pessimist tends to think the adversity will be permanent and long lasting. So, the pessimist would feel hopeless about getting another job. His way of thinking about his job loss is likely to affect whether or not he even looks for a new job, and how hard he searches.

The optimist would tend to think the adversity will be short lived and changeable. So, with undamaged confidence, and an optimistic outlook, the optimist feels like a new job will be along very soon.

Everything vs. Not everything

A pessimist thinks the job loss will effect everything in his life. He thinks the job loss will endanger his marriage, shame his family, embarrass his friends, damage his kids, and acting on his own thoughts, he retreats and pulls back from all other facets of his life.

An optimist would think a job loss would only affect his work life. He counts on his wife, and kids, and extended family and friends to be supportive during his time out of work, and maybe even helpful in finding a new opportunity.

How to Become More Optimistic

All it takes is a change in “explanatory” style … your way of explaining to yourself and others the source, the duration, and the scope of your adversity. Once you recognize a pessimistic thought, you engage in an internal dialogue where you gather evidence and dispute your pessimistic conclusion. You consciously work to find evidence that the adversity wasn’t about you, will be over soon, and will only affect limited parts of your life.

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