Friday, January 7, 2011

Developing An Attitude of Optimism

I was fortunate to grow up with women who were remarkable optimists. My mother and my maternal grandmother — women who lived through great difficulties, such as the Great Depression, single-parenting, loss of children and spouses — still managed to demonstrate the belief that things will always work out in the end.

I was well into my teenage years when I learned that not everyone grew up learning this positive outlook. A dear, childhood friend was taught differently. She received messages such as:
  • Feeling good about yourself? Be forewarned. There will always be someone who can’t wait to knock you down. 
  • Just because you did well today doesn’t mean you will tomorrow. 
  • If you expect the worst, you’ll never be disappointed.
    According to Dr. Martin Seligman’s theory of learned optimism, optimistic children grow up to be optimistic teenagers and adults. In his book, Learned Optimism, Seligman states that there are three factors that determine a learned optimistic paradigm:
    1. Optimism is acquired from our mothers. How our mothers reacted to problems set the stage for our own reaction to difficult situations. If mom dealt with everyday problems with a bright and hopeful outlook, then we, as children, learned to do the same.
    2. Optimism is influenced by the adults around us. The way adults (parents, teachers) chastise us can leave a lasting impression on how we perceive our own abilities. (Thank God for my mom and grandmother. I attended Catholic school in the 1960s…. Enough said.)
    3. Optimism is shaped by family turmoil. Family crises such as divorce or the untimely or tragic death of a family member, can contribute to a child’s general view of life later life. 
    I'll leave you today with a thought from Harry Truman: A pessimist is one who makes difficulties of his opportunities; an optimist is one who makes opportunities of his difficulties.

    Have a joyful day everyone. And remember to live a flourishing life.

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