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5 Ways to Turn Pessimism into Healthy Optimism

5 Ways to Turn Pessimism into Healthy Optimism

My father once asked me whether I knew what the difference between an optimist and a pessimist was? I said no, and he told me that in a difficult situation a pessimist says “it absolutely can’t get any worse than this”, while an optimist says that “oh, yes, it can!” Being an optimist myself, I found this to be quite amusing.

The majority of people are very aware of the fact that living as an optimist is far better than being a pessimist. Indeed, how can having a such a negative vision of the surrounding world serve us any good? However, despite most of us understanding this, our behavior is far from optimistic. As we grow up, we become more responsible, we get into the work life, people around us fall sick, taxes, children growing up, etc. Life just seems to get more difficult with every coming year. We can all agree that being a pessimist just seems like the easier choice.

The goal is not to blindly believe in a better tomorrow, but to understand why tomorrow can be better than today. Permanent happiness is nonexistent, at least not in Western society. To be honest, happiness isn’t even what optimism is about. Instead, happiness is something that arises from healthy optimism, from the understanding that the world is not trying to make our life more difficult for us. Optimism with a portion of realism is what we should aim at. To understand it better, let us look at some examples of how the mentality of a pessimist differs from that of an optimist.

1. Taking risks

At first glance, it may seem that when it comes to taking risks, being a pessimist might actually be a good thing. A risk means potential failure, and therefore it is good to analyze all of the possible dangers and to be aware of them beforehand. This way we are able to prepare for them to the best of our ability. However, the problem with this is that pessimists tend to focus on dangers a lot more than on the success itself, which hinders the whole risk-taking process. Moreover, if the chances to succeed are not high enough, the risk may never be taken.

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Optimists, in this case, focus on success and look for ways to achieve it. With healthy optimism, the potential dangers are also seen, but they are just not perceived as critically even if they do occur. If it happens, it happens – is the usual attitude.

Lastly, because the dangers are not given as much value as they are given by pessimists, bigger risks with more significant outcomes can be made. As the saying goes, “nothing ventured, nothing gained”.

2. Temporary vs permanent

A very common characteristic of pessimism is to see problems as permanent. For example, imagine a business situation where the sales have dropped for whatever reason. A pessimist will most likely think that the sales have dropped for good. This will result in excessive panicking and a potential withdrawal from the market. At other times the business owner may just give up.

An optimist in the same situation will give it some time before making any radical moves. That patience and belief in a better future not only reduces the amount of stress, but also allows space for readjusting to the situation and learning a lesson from it. Instead of panic, a new strategy may come into place, creating more opportunity for further success.

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3. Generalisation

Have you ever noticed how one single problem may freak a person out to the extent that they become hysterical? Or have you ever heard people say that their day sucks because everything seems to go wrong? If so, most likely this person has a pessimistic approach to life.

With pessimism, people often generalize problems and make them a lot bigger than what they really are. Whenever a problem occurs, they tend to see a whole lot of other problems added on to it too.

With optimism, a problem that had occurred stands on its own. It is a problem of a specific situation, and nothing more. It is also dealt with in isolation from other problems. This, once again, reduces the amount of stress, anxiety and confusion, and allows for a quicker solution to come.

4. Me vs they

With pessimism, a lot of what happens in the world is directly linked to the person that is observing it. For example, if someone gives a pessimist a funny look, they may take it personally and think that the one looking has something negative to think or say about them. An optimist in this situation will either not care, or think that the person may simply be having a bad day.

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Another example is related to driving a car. A pessimist, making a mistake on the road, will often say that all the other drivers are wrong, and might even call them names. An optimist minds his own business and puts more focus on the road instead of the driving skills of others.

5. Being open and honest

The same people that focus more on the negative, are the same people that have troubles trusting others. When it comes to a loving relationship, pessimists usually need more time to get accustomed to the other person and to trust them. While they are not necessarily selfish, they may have troubles believing in one hundred per cent honesty of the other person. Therefore, it is safe to say that if a relationship gets tough, you would rather be in one with an optimist.

Pessimists tend to anticipate some kind of hidden agenda from others. For example, one person may be helping another with a move to a different city, or with teaching them a foreign language. The one helping might want to ask for money for either the petrol that was used for the move, or for the many hours spent helping to learn the new language. A pessimist in this moment might disregard all of the value and help received, and instead focus only on the part where they have to pay that person. They think that the money was the main reason why they were helped.

An optimist in this case not only focuses primarily on the valuable information and help received, but also on paying the person before they even ask for it. Optimists understand that help from others is worth a lot and that people offering it need to be thanked in some way, be it money or help in return.

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Even though the benefits of optimism are apparent, people have a hard time living it. Optimism is not something you follow once in a while, but rather a lifestyle. And while many people focus more on the negative, the majority of people are a mix of the two, which is also not bad.

However, if you feel that you belong more to the first group of people, I urge you to reconsider your world views. Use the above examples to be aware of the way you look at life. Not only will optimism help you to experience more joy, peace and happiness, but you will be able to positively affect the people around you.

More by this author

Victor Stepanchikov

Software Engineer, Blogger, Personal Development Freak

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Last Updated on September 10, 2018

Overcoming The Pain Of A Breakup: 3 Suggestions Based On Science

Overcoming The Pain Of A Breakup: 3 Suggestions Based On Science

We thought that the expression ‘broken heart’ was just a metaphor, but science is telling us that it is not: breakups and rejections do cause physical pain. When a group of psychologists asked research participants to look at images of their ex-partners who broke up with them, researchers found that the same brain areas that are activated by physical pain are also activated by looking at images of ex-partners. Looking at images of our ex is a painful experience, literally.[1].

Given that the effect of rejections and breakups is the same as the effect of physical pain, scientists have speculated on whether the practices that reduce physical pain could be used to reduce the emotional pain that follows from breakups and rejections. In a study on whether painkillers reduce the emotional pain caused by a breakup, researchers found that painkillers did help. Individuals who took painkillers were better able to deal with their breakup. Tamar Cohen wrote that “A simple dose of paracetamol could help ease the pain of a broken heart.”[2]

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Just like painkillers can be used to ease the pain of a broken heart, other practices that ease physical pain can also be used to ease the pain of rejections and breakups. Three of these scientifically validated practices are presented in this article.

Looking at images of loved ones

While images of ex-partners stimulate the pain neuro-circuitry in our brain, images of loved ones activate a different circuitry. Looking at images of people who care about us increases the release of oxytocin in our body. Oxytocin, or the “cuddle hormone,” is the hormone that our body relies on to induce in us a soothing feeling of tranquility, even when we are under high stress and pain.

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In fact, oxytocin was found to have a crucial role as a mother is giving birth to her baby. Despite the extreme pain that a mother has to endure during delivery, the high level of oxytocin secreted by her body transforms pain into pleasure. Mariem Melainine notes that, “Oxytocin levels are usually at their peak during delivery, which promotes a sense of euphoria in the mother and helps her develop a stronger bond with her baby.”[3]

Whenever you feel tempted to look at images of your ex-partner, log into your Facebook page and start browsing images of your loved ones. As Eva Ritvo, M.D. notes, “Facebook fools our brain into believing that loved ones surround us, which historically was essential to our survival. The human brain, because it evolved thousands of years before photography, fails on many levels to recognize the difference between pictures and people”[4]

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Exercise

Endorphins are neurotransmitters that reduce our perception of pain. When our body is high on endorphins, painful sensations are kept outside of conscious awareness. It was found that exercise causes endorphins to be secreted in the brain and as a result produce a feeling of power, as psychologist Alex Korb noted in his book: “Exercise causes your brain to release endorphins, neurotransmitters that act on your neurons like opiates (such as morphine or Vicodin) by sending a neural signal to reduce pain and provide anxiety relief.”[5] By inhibiting pain from being transmitted to our brain, exercise acts as a powerful antidote to the pain caused by rejections and breakups.

Meditation

Jon Kabat Zinn, a doctor who pioneered the use of mindfulness meditation therapy for patients with chronic pain, has argued that it is not pain itself that is harmful to our mental health, rather, it is the way we react to pain. When we react to pain with irritation, frustration, and self-pity, more pain is generated, and we enter a never ending spiral of painful thoughts and sensations.

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In order to disrupt the domino effect caused by reacting to pain with pain, Kabat Zinn and other proponents of mindfulness meditation therapy have suggested reacting to pain through nonjudgmental contemplation and acceptance. By practicing meditation on a daily basis and getting used to the habit of paying attention to the sensations generated by our body (including the painful ones and by observing these sensations nonjudgmentally and with compassion) our brain develops the habit of reacting to pain with grace and patience.

When you find yourself thinking about a recent breakup or a recent rejection, close your eyes and pay attention to the sensations produced by your body. Take deep breaths and as you are feeling the sensations produced by your body, distance yourself from them, and observe them without judgment and with compassion. If your brain starts wandering and gets distracted, gently bring back your compassionate nonjudgmental attention to your body. Try to do this exercise for one minute and gradually increase its duration.

With consistent practice, nonjudgmental acceptance will become our default reaction to breakups, rejections, and other disappointments that we experience in life. Every rejection and every breakup teaches us great lessons about relationships and about ourselves.

Featured photo credit: condesign via pixabay.com

Reference

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