13 Jul Are you optimistic?
Current challenges present us with the opportunity to choose how to interpret what is happening in the world. Are we being optimistic or pessimistic? How are we relating to the current socio-economic, political realities? Is it possible to be optimistic when facts are highly concerning? How do we stay positive when we learn about how some states in the US are working toward limiting voting rights that affect minorities in particular; when we learn that our family members are living in one of the countries with the most cases of COVID-19 in the world?
Reading the news in the morning or listening to National Public Radio sometimes makes me upset. I wonder how to maintain optimism and stay centered in an environment that is so volatile and unfair, where inequality can´t be overlooked any longer? My partner keeps telling me that if the US becomes an ultra-conservative country, he does not want to live here any longer. Interestingly, I am an immigrant, he is a Midwest guy born in the US.
Dr. Martin Seligman, the father of Positive Psychology, in a recent session on June 17 at the WBECS conference, differentiated pessimistic from optimistic perspectives based on three key factors: timing (whatever happens will go away vs. will stay forever), situation (it is just this situation and not everything, or all people), and degree of control (we can plan around it vs. feeling completely out of control).
Consider a current challenge you are having. Will it be there forever or last just some time? Is it happening locally or everywhere? Can you plan around it? Is there anything within your control that will allow you to take care of the situation? Are there other possible interpretations you could consider? Are you taking a passive stance around it?
We may not be able to change the facts, but we may be able to do something about our relationship with them. We are still in control of our interpretations, decisions, and actions. Positive Psychology offers some distinctions to help us build resilience and navigate some of these challenges. I am not talking about unrealistic expectations but optimism based on facts.
Our brain has a tendency to distort towards being catastrophic. What about considering the possibility that things will be ok after all? What can we learn from this experience? How might we transform something with a negative impact into a learning opportunity?
Research shows that optimistic people are happier, healthier, bounce back faster, try harder, give up less, and as a result have a tendency to succeed. Seligman suggests that we develop PERMA to flourish and regain optimism. The acronym PERMA means:
P: Pleasant emotions, looking for opportunities to cultivate them
E: Engagement and flow, by participating and committing fully to life
R: Relationships that are supportive
M: Meaning and purpose, finding reasons to do what we do, clarifying our values
A: Accomplishment, for its own sake
Focusing on these five elements may help us to have a more optimistic view of reality and as a result to develop higher levels of wellbeing. It is worthwhile to consider how to apply them in our lives. I admit it is not always easy to be optimistic, but it has helped me to navigate COVID-19 in my personal life and support my clients, colleagues, and the people I love.