In Today’s World, Intelligent Optimism Wins
Critical food shortages in Africa, daily gang killings on city streets, profiteering from child pornography, and climatic disasters exacerbated by global warming are just a few examples. Health care costs are increasing at a faster rate than a hummingbird in flight, and an increasing number of children now use profanity as a natural part of their speech.
You’re probably already depressed after reading the first paragraph. However, hold on! There is reason for optimism. Not the cockeyed optimism that inspired a song in the musical South Pacific, but rather what French psychologists refer to as “intelligent optimism.” This optimism does not deny the realities of today’s world, but rather seeks to LEARN how to fashion a life in the face of such obstacles. Martin Seligman, the psychologist who has dedicated his life to the study of optimism and happiness, would concur with the French: optimism can be taught.
Consider the following fundamental steps:
(1) Concentrate on what you have control over.
Avoid becoming swept up in circumstances that you cannot change. While you cannot stop global warming, you can manage your energy consumption. You cannot stop your company from downsizing, but you can arm yourself with marketable skills.
(2) Reframe the event in such a way that you are no longer the victim.
There is always an alternate perspective on a situation. Flight cancellations that resulted in my missing (and forfeiting) a significant engagement were not “planned” to “get” me. It simply was. My option is to determine how I can assist the current client and what I will do in lieu of the cancelled work.
(3) Consider the concept of “enough.”
When we focus exclusively on what we lack, we overlook the plethora of things we do possess. The reality is that if you are reading this article, you do possess sufficient computer power. You do possess an adequate level of intelligence. You do have sufficient time.
(4) Cultivate an optimistic outlook.
As a farmer tends a field, optimism cannot flourish unless it is watered, fed, weeded, and nourished. Everybody has days when negativity takes over. And, occasionally, that is a WISE response because it grounds us in reality. Simply ensure that what you are experiencing is reality and not your imagination making extraordinary leaps into conjecture. Eliminate that conjecture. Inquire as to what you can DO to achieve a result that instils a sense of power in you. If we do not cultivate such intelligent optimism, remain cognizant of reality, and are willing to consider alternative solutions, we risk succumbing to Alexander Graham Bell’s warning. “We spend so much time staring at the closed door that we miss the one that is about to open.”
(5) Keep in mind the generational influence.
Children of depressed parents are at an increased risk of developing depression. Optimists’ children are more likely to be optimists. What do you choose to convey? Even if your parents were negative, you can break the cycle by pausing, freeze-framing a situation, listening to your negative self-talk, and then literally sending a different message to yourself. Yes, this takes practice, but with enough repetition, it can become a habit.
Finally, intelligent optimists recognize that change and chaos are unavoidable. They are well aware that “this, too, shall pass.” Meanwhile, they CHOOSE to take whatever action is possible within their sphere of influence and then withdraw. That is sufficient.