Are you a pessimist?
“We can complain because rose bushes have thorns, or rejoice because thorn bushes have roses.”Abraham Lincoln
I was recently reading about Dr. Martin Seligman (one of the founders of positive psychology) and his work studying health differences in people who were optimistic and pessimistic.
He examined how these people explained “bad” events that happened to them, such as natural disasters, personal defeats, or illness/injury, etc.
A pessimist tends to follow a pattern that involves blaming themselves, often catastrophizing, thinking an event or feeling is going to last forever and that it will affect everything else they do.
This person’s self-talk is something along the lines of “I’m so stupid, I never do anything right.”
An optimist, on the other hand, doesn’t blame themselves—even when experiencing the same events.
They see them as momentary occurrences and don’t turn to broad projections that blow the event out of proportion.
This person tells themselves, “Ugh, I totally blew it, but I’ll figure out how to deal with it and make changes next time.”
Dr. Seligman’s studies showed that the pessimists are at a higher risk for becoming depressed, but that they were also more likely to experience changes in their immune systems and hormonal and physical changes that indicated a higher susceptibility to diseases than optimists.
They studied cancer patients and showed that the more pessimistic the patient, the earlier they died.
They even reviewed baseball players in the Hall of Fame and found those who were pessimistic were more likely to die young than those who were optimistic—even if they were physically healthy.
The main finding from Dr. Seligman’s work was that how we see and think about the things that happen to us has more of an effect than what is actually happening to us.
Not only does a negative way of thinking make us both mentally and emotionally miserable, but it can also have physical consequences, putting us at risk for illness and disease.
Dr. Seligman was also able to demonstrate that optimistic thinking not only helps us “avoid” the risks that pessimism presents, but it can actually have a protective and preventative effect against depression, illness, and premature death.
How do you feel as you read this email?
Bitter that you received it on a Monday?
Insecure, fearing you might be a pessimist?
Proud that you consider yourself an optimist?
The point of this email isn’t to make anyone feel bad about how they think—but to bring attention to the fact that how we think affects everything else in our life.
Our thoughts will affect our feelings, actions, and results—not only with our jobs and relationships, but also with our physical health!
This is fascinating, and it might be scary to some of you.
But it can also be reassuring (depending on how you look at it, of course…)
I encourage you to spend some time noticing your thoughts. Meditation can be a great way to do this, but so can just a bit of intention throughout the day.
What’s the first thought you have when you wake up? The last thought before you fall asleep?
When a tough situation comes up, notice the tone of your thoughts—are they rooted in pessimism or optimism? Scarcity or abundance?
Before you even try to “change” from being a pessimist to an optimist, we have to see clearly how that negative thinking is affecting us.
Soon, I’ll give some tips for how to actively work on changing our thoughts (without just lying to ourselves). But for now, just spend the week noticing.
What was your gut reaction when you read this—did you fear your pessimism or appreciate your optimism? Have you struggled with negative self-talk—what do you do to make that inner conversation a little kinder?
Thanks for sharing, I always appreciate you!
Light and love,