Is happiness a learned behavior? What makes some people more resilient, more energetic and just happier be to around? The good news is that we are all capable of becoming happier individuals by following what Dr. Martin Seligman, a psychologist, educator and author, calls learned optimism. He has found that the talent for joy in our lives can actually be something we can teach and cultivate ourselves. Now that’s something to celebrate!
Although Seligman started out studying learned helplessness he discovered that examining why some people were happier in life would be an even greater contribution to the field. Through rigorous research he came up with a simple yet powerful approach that we can utilize to improve our lives. Seligman instructs us to be brutally honest and examine how we view the events or challenges in our life from the perspective of the 3 P’s (permanent – pervasive – personal).
For example, we have all been cut off while driving in traffic. The optimist views the situation as an isolated event and may even think that the driver of the other car may have had an emergency or simply made a mistake. They view the minor hassle as something that will pass and don’t allow it to ill effect their overall attitude or day. Their attitude could best be summarized by, ‘this too shall pass.’
The pessimist, on the other hand starts a diatribe of self talk and views the traffic incident as yet another example that ALWAYS happens to him (personal). He goes on to further generalize that most other people are just basically bad or inconsiderate drivers (pervasive). Soon, the mere act of driving for the pessimist can become a permanent, negative experience which elicits more aggressive tendencies. The pessimist thinks to himself, ‘this always happens to me’ (permanent).
When you think about viewing events in our lives as temporary, isolated and due to causes frequently beyond our control it becomes easier to view the bumps in the road of life as minor ones which will pass. However, when we look at the same event as permanent, pervasive and personal we can easily fall into the trap of overall pessimist thinking. When this happens our negative energy begins to envelop our entire attitude in life and we begin to actually expect more negative experiences. As we know from the law of attraction what we think about most often comes back to us double fold. We become an energy drain on others and soon become too exhausting to be around.
The good news is that research from the University of Pennsylvania, Wharton and elsewhere is clear – we can become more positive, productive and energetic people by practicing learned optimism. We all have our share of life challenges. We may think others have an easier life but we have never walked a mile in their shoes. When we begin to view our own life challenges as temporary and not a pervasive indicator of life yet to come we gain more confidence and energy to face our tomorrows.
When we practice learned optimism it helps us keep life in perspective as we refuse to allow ourselves to make mountains out of mole hills. The research is clear, we can significantly reduce depression and anxiety by practicing optimism. It staves off feelings of helplessness and actually gives us a reason to look forward to tomorrow.
Once we choose to examine our own thinking patterns and begin over time to practice learned optimism it becomes an ingrained way of thinking. The temporary challenges we all face in life are kept in perspective and we find ourselves more confident in our own ability to weather the storms in life. As a result, other people want to be around us because they feel energized in our presence. That’s a good feeling!
With everything in life we have a choice. Is it time to reevaluate our thinking and decide to become more optimistic individuals? Life really can be greater than the sum of its parts.
Have a great few days!