This post was written by guest contributor Sabra Brock, Interim Dean of the Graduate School of Business. This post originally appeared on LinkedIn.
I love the concept of Learned Optimism. It is the idea that you can learn how to increase your moments of happiness. Martin Seligman introduced the concept in 1990 when he was president of the American Psychological Association. Up to that point APA presidents had taken on research focused on disease. He focused on health, specifically happiness and optimism.
What did he and the psychological community find out about how to be happier? How are optimists different? They are more confident and resilient, healthier and higher achieving. It wasn’t just that people who had these characteristics had something to be happy about. It was more that they thought about external events differently. Optimists tend to believe that bad events to be more temporary than permanent. They are more likely to compartmentalize failure, while pessimists generalize failure in one area as failure in life as a whole. But optimists allow positive events to brighten every area of their lives. They are likely to blame bad events on external causes, while pessimists blame themselves. Have you ever caught yourself saying something like “I failed this test, therefore I must be a failure?” That’s the voice in your head where you want to turn down the volume.
Seligman’s process of learning optimism is based on a new way of responding to adversity. When something bad happens, you create a new voice in your head. I think of it as the good angel on my right shoulder responding to the bad angel on my left. The example given in his Learned Optimism book is when someone cuts you off in traffic. You think, “I can’t believe that idiot was so rude and selfish!” Learned optimism self-talk could go, “I am overreacting. I don’t know what situation he is in. Maybe he is on his way to his daughter’s piano recital and is running late. I’m sure I have cut people off before without meaning to, so I should really cut him a break. I am not in a hurry anyway.”
The flight into happiness needs to take off from a solid foundation of positive self-talk, seeing the beauty and goodness of the world around you, celebrating and consciously observing it.
Boniwell, I. (2012). Positive psychology in a nutshell: The science Of happiness (3rd Edition). Maidenhead, GBR: Open University Press.
Carr, A. (2013). Positive psychology: The science of happiness and human strengths (2nd Edition). Florence, KY: Routledge.
Edelman, S. (2012). Happiness of pursuit: What neuroscience can teach us about the good life. New York, NY: Basic Books.
Seligman, M. E. P. (2006). Learned optimism: How to change your mind and your life. New York, NY: Vintage Books.