Can We Be Optistic?
(*Yes. we can. I took a short break from Past Becomes Present but didn’t do the promo because I didn’t know how long it might be. Optimistic by nature, I believed it wouldn’t be long. And happily, my positive attitude bore fruit!)
Optimists get a bad rep. People say we’re Pollyanna’s, breezing along believing that everything is wonderful and will continue to be. True, we like to walk on the sunny side, but there’s the other half of the equation—we work to “make it so.”
The recent Delta strain threatens to scale back Americans’ escape from Covid’s 15-month hibernation. Some cities, like Austin, hang a return to level 4 restrictions over our heads (and dim dreams of mini vacations, while increasing infections nationwide).
How do our brains handle the dramatic pendulum swings we encounter now? Well, being optimistic doesn’t come naturally. Martin Seligman, a psychology professor, and director of the Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania, says we are “hardwired” to stick to a negative bias. He indicates this goes all the way back to the caveman, preparing us to address the worst-case scenario. It’s why we know not to touch a hot flame after we’ve been burned. Humans are more likely to respond to negative stimuli.
But we are not condemned to be grumps! Humans can learn to protect themselves and bounce back from misfortune—like divorce, unemployment, or health crises. But how? We’re not good at predicting how each of us will react to misfortune, according to Tali Sharot in From the Optimism Bias, A Tour of the Irrationally Positive Brain.
How is it possible for humans to stimulate and predict the outcome of possible future scenarios? Using imagination can help us create and examine all the possibilities we might face, pulling away the drama that could prevent our success.
Like many others, prior to experiencing hip surgery I feared for a long, painful recovery unable to get around and completing the most basic tasks with great difficulty.
Sharot’s research points to the human mind is flexible enough to find ways to restore balance when facing a challenge. Our brains can change our perceptions of the physical world.
Matt Hampson, a 20-year-old rugby player, experienced a life-changing event that proves the point. In 2005 during practice, he dislocated his neck, paralyzing him. Suddenly this vibrant young man needed round-the-clock care and steers his wheelchair with his chin and breathes through a ventilator.
Rather than dreading his life, Matt has found a purpose. He created the Get Busy Living Centre, a rehab center for those with life-changing injuries in Leicestershire, England. The brain can find the silver lining in seemingly unimaginable circumstances, if only we can use our imagination. The brain is more flexible and adaptable than we imagine.
We don’t need to have a crisis in our lives to take a moment to check in about our own purposes—or to create something that enriches us or others. Putting a couple words together, even just for us, can start the ball rolling. What’s important to you? How could you make a difference in your life and maybe others?
Notice the balloons in the photo above. They are not your garden variety birthday balloons. No, these are Hot Air Balloons. Why this choice? Anyone can manage a single helium balloon but rising a hot air balloon high into the sky and bringing it back to the ground safely requires effort and skill—an optimistic approach paired with knowledge!
Optimism is my vision. Positive brings on more of the same, provided it’s joined by works! So now let’s just try it out and see if it breeds!