“I want to be happy,” Anne whispered, her eyes on the floor of my office. “My friends tell me that to be happy I just need to think positive, so I say positive affirmations to myself — but it’s not working!”
Anne’s situation is not unusual. She is a bright, successful woman, and yet unhappy. She tries hard to think positive, but it does not help her. So, if being Pollyanna doesn’t work, what does?
Optimism is a skill which you can learn.
Psychologists recognize two sets of skills, which build two types of optimism:
1) Optimism as the expectation of a better future where we believe that our goals can be attained.
To learn this type of optimism, tap into your positive future by writing about your best possible future self (where everything has gone as well as it possibly could after you have worked hard and succeeded in accomplishing your life goals). There is scientific evidence that writing about your best self produces lasting happiness, probably because it brings a sense of control about the future, and gives people the message that it is within their power to change.
2) Optimism as a way of explaining negative events. Research shows that optimists attribute negative events to bad luck and external forces; while pessimists attribute them to personal failure and are therefore more likely to become depressed.
To learn this type of optimism, focus on the stressors in your life which have built up to cause your nightmare week (seeing the problems as external and temporary instead of internal and permanent).
When Anne learned to direct her energy into proven techniques for building optimism, she soon found benefits. Optimism motivates us and helps us take initiative. When feeling optimistic, we are less likely to give up, and more likely to engage in active and effective coping strategies.