“Optimism is a strategy for making a better future. Because unless you believe that the future can be better you are unlikely to step up and take responsibility for making it so. If you assume there is an instinct for freedom, there are opportunities to change things, there’s a chance you may contribute to making a better world. The choice is yours.”
Noam Chomsky

With the advent of the Positive Psychology movement, there has been a great deal of interest in the topic of optimism. Voluminous and robust research has brought wonderful news indeed. Optimism has been shown to generate improved physical and mental health, longevity, performance excellence, creativity and success in attaining goals and dreams. Research indicates that an optimistic attitude helps to relieve and prevent depression. According to Professor Martin Seligman at the University of Pennsylvania, optimism has even played a significant role in the outcomes of professional sporting events and Presidential elections.

Developing the strength of optimism is a powerful way to increase the opportunities and successes in your life. In my professional training and experience, I’ve become convinced that working with clients on the cognitive and behavioral components of optimism can be life altering. The process is enjoyable with results often occurring within a short time frame.

What is this promising elixir? Optimism is a belief system with three major components: first, the belief in your own power to make your life and your future better; second, the belief that negative events in your life are not permanent, personal or pervasive; and third, the belief that positive events in your life are permanent, personal and pervasive.

Permanent refers to the lasting effects of an event. If you make a mistake, fail at some task or encounter an obstacle, do you tell yourself that this is not going to go away or change, that this problem is permanent? Or do you, as the optimist, tell yourself that this is a temporary state of affairs? If something positive happens, do you tell yourself it’s temporary, or as the optimist, you tell yourself that it will have a permanent and positive effect on your future?

Personal refers to your interpretation of who is responsible for the event and why it happened. If you’re besieged by a negative event, do you believe you’re a victim or that you brought this terrible thing upon yourself? Or, as the optimist, do you believe bad things happen to everyone, that your response to them is what will make the difference in the future? If something positive happens, do you tell yourself that this is a fluke, or as the optimist, do you tell yourself that you had a lot to do with this welcome occurrence?

Pervasive pertains to your belief about how other parts of your life will be affected by the event. In the case of a negative event, do you believe this will have a counterproductive influence on other aspects of your life, or as the optimist, believe that the effect is relative only to the context in which it occurred? If a positive event occurs, are you convinced that the results will only be beneficial to this specific part, or as the optimist, do you think that the sunshine will spread throughout your life?

Optimism is about positive, can-do beliefs, expectations, choices and strategies, about knowing you are responsible for your life and that you have the ability to be effective on your own behalf. The optimist learns all he can from adversity and then propels himself forward toward his goals and vision. The optimist takes credit for the things he has accomplished, savors the victories, and utilizes them as fuel for the ongoing journey of dreams and discovery.

Seligman, M.E.P. (1998) Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life New York: Knopf

Seligman, M.E.P. (2202) Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology to Realize Your Potential for Lasting Fulfillment New York: Knopf

Author's Bio: 

Sharon Esonis, Ph.D., has spent the better part of three decades helping individuals live their dreams through her work as a licensed psychologist, life coach and author.

An expert in human behavior and motivation, Dr. Esonis specializes in the burgeoning field of Positive Psychology, the scientific study of optimal human functioning and the core strengths that can lead to the achievement of one's personally-defined goals – what we call "the good life."

Dr. Esonis earned her Bachelor and Masters degrees at Ohio University and her doctoral degree at Boston College. While at BC, she studied under a preeminent psychologist who was renowned in the field of Cognitive Behavior Therapy and was an early proponent of the Positive Psychology movement.

Dr. Esonis is licensed in psychology in Arizona and Massachusetts, and in addition to her many years of private practice as a clinician and life coach, she supervised masters and doctoral students in their clinical work at Arizona State University.

She has served as a hospital staff psychologist and has lectured on topics ranging from stress management, meditation and relaxation training to assertiveness and sleep management. Today, her private practice in San Diego is dedicated exclusively to Positive Psychology Coaching.

Her first book, "It's Your Little Red Wagon… 6 Core Strengths for Navigating Your Path to the Good Life," was Dr. Esonis’ initial contribution to the field of Positive Psychology, presenting proven success factors and strength-building techniques that can lead individuals to a life of purpose, motivation and personally-defined happiness.

In "8 Crazy Beliefs That Screw Up Your Life -- Change These Beliefs and Become a Healthier, Happier Person," Dr. Esonis identifies eight “Thematic Belief Systems” that, in her experience as a psychologist and life coach for over 30 years, prevent individuals from building healthy, long-lasting relationships and extracting maximum happiness from life. She examines these “crazy beliefs” with all their negative implications and offers practical, persuasive arguments for why – and how – they can be replaced with healthy alternatives.

Dr. Esonis is a member of the San Diego Professionals Coaches Alliance (SDPCA) and is a Founding Member of the Centre for Applied Positive Psychology (CAPP).