I rarely share my beliefs with people. When I try to explain to them how our thoughts shape our reality, I get that kind of glazed eyeball look, or the “let-me-humor-her-in-case-she’s-crazy” look:
But it isn’t some crazy woo-woo. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy has been used to treat a number of problems quite successfully, including Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Depression, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, Eating Disorders, Panic Disorder, and Dissociative Identity Disorder. The basic premise of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is that our thoughts have a major impact on how we feel and behave. Practitioners believe that many psychological issues are a result of how we interpret our experiences. And as humans, we interpret our environment through our thoughts and feelings. The goal of a CBT therapist, therefore, is to help clients modify unhealthy thoughts and behaviors and replace them with positive ones.
If that wasn’t enough to convince me, the data from our Happiness Test offered a nice little soapbox for me to stand on, which is great when I need to look at my doubters in the eye and say, “See? See? Cold, hard data!” Or as Homer Simpson would say, “Check and mate. Now king me!”
In terms of outlook and personality, pessimists and optimists are worlds apart – despite the fact that they live in the same world. Here’s what our research shows:
- 84% of pessimists said that they prefer not to get their hopes up, so that they don’t end up disappointed (compared to 10% of optimists).
- 83% of pessimists believe that this is a “dog-eat-dog” world, where anyone will back-stab you to get to the top (compared to 4% of optimists).
- Along the same vein, 82% of pessimists refuse to place their trust in anyone (compared to 4% of optimists).
- 78% of pessimists believe that they are better off looking after themselves, because they can’t rely on others to do so (compared to 9% of optimists).
- 74% of pessimists believe that what can go wrong will go wrong, no matter how carefully you plan ahead (compared to 3% of optimists).
- 55% of pessimists don’t feel comfortable in their own skin. They believe that being their genuine self will give people cause to dislike them – so they put on a mask and try to be someone they’re not (compared to 1% of optimists).
- 53% of pessimists believe that some people are just doomed to live an unhappy life, and no amount of money, support, or opportunity can change that (compared to 1% of optimists).
- 45% of pessimists believe that there’s no point in maintaining close friendships, because nothing lasts forever (compared to less than 1% of optimists).
Being more of a pessimist than an optimist, I can understand the allure, if you will, of this mindset. Why risk soul-crushing disappointment by assuming that things will work out for you? Why take risks when you can play it safe? The problem is that a pessimistic attitude becomes addictive. You don’t just see the world as a giant succubus, sucking the joy and the hope out of you – you actually start to believe that this is how the world, and your life, is really meant to be.
And then I look at the people who have a perpetual grin on their face; people who are no more successful than I am and who don’t make more money than I do. They don’t let anything get to them, and when they experience a setback, they assume that things will work out eventually. And much to my fascination (and yes, frustration), it always does. Then I scowl, cross my arms angrily, and wish I could be just as optimistic as they are. Jerks. Why won’t they share their secret?
Well, they did. I asked them nicely, and they obliged – because, you know, they’re optimists.
Here’s the wisdom they bestowed on me:
- Develop an attitude of gratitude. It seems to be human nature to focus on the negative – just turn on the TV to the latest news reports: Whales beaching themselves; hurricanes; the Earth warming up; my team going on a ridiculously long losing streak that was only supposed to be a “temporary rut.” Still, rather than focusing on all that is going wrong in your life, try focusing on what’s going right. On the one hand, you may not have a great deal of money in your bank account, or your ideal partner or body. So what do you have? Two eyes to read this. A heart that beats. A sunset. Friends. A car. A home. Essentially, really dig deep and find all the things that you have to be appreciative of, no matter how minor they may seem.
- Find your “raison-d’être”. Whether it’s baking, raising your children, fostering animals, creating art or music, or volunteering, find something that adds meaning to your life. This sense of passion will make you feel renewed, and help you realize how special and important you really are. And you may just be able to make a positive impact on someone’s life.
- Read inspirational books. There’s nothing more inspiring than reading about people just like you who went through the same hardships you did and still managed to come out on top. It gives you hope and a reason to keep trying. Examples of some good inspirational books include Viktor Frankl’s “Man’s Search For Meaning”, Stephen Covey’s “7 Habits of Highly Effective People”, Louise Hay’s “You Can Heal Your Life”, Herman Hesse’s “Siddhartha”, Barbara Delinksky’s “Uplift: Secrets from the Sisterhood of Breast Cancer Survivors”, and Nelson Mandela’s “Long walk to Freedom”, to name just a few.