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Optimism Can Be Learned


Within one hour I received emails from two friends about the Corona Virus. One expressed great fear and described giving up many social and volunteer activities, while the other lamented the hysteria gripping the country. You can pretty much guess which friend is the optimist and which is the pessimist. 

“Researchers from the School of Medicine, the National Center for PTSD at VA Boston Healthcare System, and Harvard University’s T. H. Chan School of Public Health have found that . . . individuals with greater optimism are more likely to live longer.” They define optimism as “a general expectation that good things will happen, or believing that the future will be favorable because we can control important outcomes.” (Bostonia, “Never Underestimate the Power of Positive Thinking,” winter-spring 2020, p. 63)

What does optimism have to do with dysregulated eating? For one thing, “research suggests that more optimistic people may be able to regulate emotions and behavior as well as bounce back from stressors and difficulties more effectively,” according to Harvard’s Laura Kubzansky. This makes a great deal of sense and is why I focus strongly on developing life skills and beneficial personality traits in my therapy, blogs and books. “The researchers also consider that more optimistic people tend to have healthier habits—they are more likely to exercise and less likely to smoke—which could extend life span.”

Which way do you lean: toward optimism or a pessimism? How did you acquire these beliefs? Do you believe that your temperament is your destiny or are you open to the possibility that you could learn to be more upbeat and positive? 

If you would like to become more positive, try these two simple strategies:

  • When you have a negative, defeatist thought, ask yourself, “If I didn’t believe this, what might I believe?” For example, if you’re going for a job interview and keep telling yourself you probably won’t get the job, what other potential beliefs could you have?
  • When facing a distressing situation, trying leapfrogging over what makes you anxious. This involves not focusing on a future event that distresses you but on how great you’ll feel after it’s over. 

If you would like to improve your eating and quality of life, set an intention to become more optimistic and practice changing your view of life. If you think you can, you can. Most of you who are pessimistic don’t hear yourselves the way others hear you. So pay attention to all your thoughts and words and you’ll be taking a huge, positive first step.