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Well-being series: The many dimensions of an optimist (Optimism part 3)

Updated: Jun 3, 2019

This is a continuation of my series of posts on Optimism - you can find part 1 here.

Rightly or wrongly, my approach to investigating optimism has led to my initial interpretation of what is is being challenged.

Optimists clearly have positive expectations about the future like the ones I am practicing daily, but optimism itself appears to have more dimensions that I first thought. According to Martin Seligman, optimism can provide resistance to conditions like depression and other researchers agree it is not just about positively thinking your way out of setbacks, but a proactive approach to coping with challenges.

When it comes to learning optimism, Seligman describes learning optimism as an antidote to the pessimism that he believes causes psychological depression. My interpretation of this is that optimism and pessimism are opposing life views; some of us have a positive internal running commentary on life’s ups and downs and for some of us it has a distinct and unmercifully negative voice.

This explanatory style is therefore what sets apart an optimist from a pessimist and it seems it may be important to consider my explanatory styles for both positive and a negative events in my life.

As I progress with my optimistic journaling, I am intrigued to understand more about the different space and time dimensions of optimism when it comes to how we explain past events to ourselves:

My Observations:

▪ I could probably sometimes usefully acknowledge the external circumstances of a bad event rather than automatically blaming myself

▪ Perhaps optimists savour good events, something I have trouble with? Food for thought.

▪ It seems that pessimists personalise bad events quite a lot. I can see how this is something that I am very good at as I attribute meaning to most events, even the good ones in my life.

It’s common sense (and research confirms) that when we feel that we can make an impact on a situation, we are more likely to continue putting in the effort. This resonates with Seligman's view that optimism (as a temporary and specific explanatory response to setbacks) could counter learned helplessness, where you feel that nothing you could do will change your situation.

All of this made me wonder if I had been giving optimism a proper chance to really help increase my well-being. Considering this, I decided to modify my assignment to include some practice challenging some of my own explanations for events.

Watch this space…next instalment coming soon!


Carver, C.S., Scheier, M.F., Miller, C.J., & Fulford, D. (2009). Optimism. In Lopez, S. J., & Snyder, C. R. (Eds.), The Oxford handbook of positive psychology (pp. 303-312). New York: Oxford University Press.

Peterson, C., Maier, S.F. and Seligman, M.E.P. (1995) Learned Helplessness: A Theory for the Age of Personal Control. Oxford University Press, New York.

Peterson, C., & Steen, T.A. (2009). Optimistic Explanatory Style. In Lopez, S. J., & Snyder, C. R. (Eds.), The Oxford handbook of positive psychology (pp. 313-321). New York: Oxford University Press.

Scheier, M.F. and Carver, C.S. (1992) Effects of Optimism on Psychological and Physical Well-Being: Theoretical Overview and Empirical Update. Cognitive Theory and Research, 16, 201-228.

Seligman, M. E. P. (2006). Learned Optimism. New York: Random House, Inc.

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