Is it REALLY possible to learn to be an optimist if you are a little on the curmudgeonly side and say, in your 50s? Well, interestingly, the proof that optimism can be learned comes from studies that show that pessimism can be learned...

Psychologist Martin Seligman exposed dogs to mild electrical shocks that they could not escape. After a while the dogs gave up. In the next stage of the experiment, the dogs were given opportunities to escape. Did they? You guessed it-- NO.  And while the applications of findings in this experiment has proved to be a lot more complicated and controversial when moved from canines to human examples, Seligman and co-researchers showed that loss of motivation, confidence, and trust is a sure-fire way to guarantee apathy, despair and a pervasive sense of failure.

However, after showing the development of pessimistic thought patterns Seligman set out to prove that it is equally possible to learn how to think like an optimist.  Children in a treatment center with a "depression" diagnosis were taught techniques for coping with challenges using optimism.   After two years, ALL of the children in this particular group had been moved off the "depression" diagnosis.  Here are 4 of the techniques that were used in the Penn Prevention Program:

  • Thought-Catching - learn to identify and arrest any defeating thoughts-- check out that "inner tape"-- when you are depressed, stressed or sad.
  • Thought Evaluation- Pick out the inaccuracies of the thoughts you have when feeling depressed, sad or stressed
  • Accurate Explanation- Switch your negative and inaccurate thoughts with more positive, realistic ones
  • Decatastrophizing- Instead of being paralyzed by the possible disasters, focus on solving the problem at hand
And, although I will be talking about it later, I will state briefly here that I believe that the energy psychology called Meridian Tapping or Emotional Freedom Technique is a much quicker method of dealing with releasing your chronically stressed, depressed, sad feelings and becoming more sunny-natured.  We will talk about Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) in posts to come!  Go here to read more about this simple, easy to learn and apply meridian tapping technique-->

With gratitude, I base this blog on the book "Learn to be an Optimist: A Practical Guide to Achieving Happiness" by Lucy MacDonald, a Quebec-based motivational speaker with an academic background in psychology and counseling.

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Thanks so much for commenting! Your wisdom & sharing helps someone else along their journey to life-long happiness and daily optimism! ~Cynthia