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Well-being series: Would I recommend optimism?(Optimism part 5)

Updated: Jun 3, 2019

Overall, practicing optimism was a good positive activity for me to increase my well-being (rising from feeling neutral to ‘slightly satisfied’) and my mood also overall improved. This could be due to many different reasons, but I do credit challenging my explanations as being key to overcoming some of the set-backs I experienced by enabling me to re-evaluate and then bounce back more quickly than I usually do.

I would say that overall I have had positive experience working on developing this positive character trait. As the assignment ended, I find myself more easily identifying problem thinking and savouring when things go right. In this way hope I have developed optimism beyond that of a short term useful positive activity that can increase my happiness, but can now start to foster it as a useful psychological resource to stabilise and increase my well-being.

My experience that someone with mental ill-health can be highly motivated to learn a happiness boosting strategy and that optimism may have mediated some of my symptoms of anxiety and low mood. However, I appreciate that this approach is not one size fits all; choosing the wrong intervention could do more harm than good for someone who is already suffering.

In my experience, and perhaps contrary to Seligman’s view, depression can be protective, a safeguard against feeling when you feel too much and an important enabler of authentic growth and change. I do agree when he says forcing blind optimism isn’t the answer, but my experience shows me that increasing self-awareness of and challenging cognitive styles with the purpose of building optimism as a trait has helped me reframe both views of myself and my reactions to life events, both good and bad.

This assignment has shown me how much I rely on external validation of my sense of self by my magnification of the meaning of both good events as reassurance and bad events as universal failure

In this way cultivating optimism by challenging my explanatory style was the perfect strategy for me to explore what could be considered a preventative psychological resource and it feels much more effective than the fire-fighting approach of cognitive behavioural therapy exercises.

I intend to continue practicing optimism - challenging my explanatory style when bad events happen and just as importantly keep practicing savouring of good events.

References (Full list for series)

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.

Diener, E. (1984). Subjective Well-Being. Psychological Bulletin, 95(3), 542-575.

Diener, E., Emmons, R.A., Larsen, R.J., & Griffin, S. (1985). The Satisfaction with Life Scale. Journal of Personality Assessment, 49(1), 71-75

Diener, E., & Lucas, R. (1999). Personality and subjective well-being. In D. Kahneman, E. Diener, & N. Schwarz (Eds.), Well-being: The foundations of hedonic psychology (pp. 213-229). New York: Russell Sage Foundation.

Layous, K., Chancellor, J., & Lyubomirsky, S. (2014). Positive activities as protective factors against mental health conditions. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 123(1), 3-12.

Lyubomirsky, S. (2001). Why are some people happier than others: The role of cognitive and motivational processes in well-being. American Psychologist, 56(3), 239-249.

Lyubomirsky, S. (2007). The How of Happiness. London: Sphere.

Lyubomirsky, S., Dickerhoof, R., Boehm, J.K., & Sheldon, K.M. (2011). Becoming happier takes both a will and a proper way: An experimental longitudinal Intervention to boost well-being. Emotion, 11(2), 391-402.

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. (2003). Authentic Happiness. London: Nicholas Brearley Publishing.

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

Seligman, M. E. P. Rashid, T., & Parks, A. C. (2006). Positive psychotherapy. American Psychologist, 61(8), 774-788.

Sheldon, K. M., & Lyubomirsky, S. (2006). How to increase and sustain positive emotion: the effects of expressing gratitude and visualizing best possible selves. Journal of Positive Psychology, 1, 73-82.

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