In general, most of us are somewhat optimistic individuals who exhibit positive adaptive thinking behavior. Such attitude and behavior can be explained by evolutionary reasons, which suggest that an optimistic type of behavior is a corrective mechanism that protects us as a species and allows us to move forward in life. Optimistic behavior is described as the ability to forecast good in future settings and is often represented as looking at the world through “rose-colored glasses.”
Why is it worth it for us to practice more optimistic behavior and to have a positive outlook on life?
- The optimistic person encounters and experiences situations in a much healthier way. An optimistic approach allows an individual to maintain a greater sense of well-being in the moment. Amos Tversky, the famous mathematician and psychologist, said that being pessimistic is impractical because in the event that the bad thing happens, you end up living it twice. The first time is when you are worried about it, and the second time is when it happens.
- Optimism can channel behavior beyond the normal range of the individual mental state. It can measure and predict performances and future successes. Such can be seen in the sports world; we can predict success by evaluating certain characteristics of behavior. As a general rule, optimistic people are healthier, are situated with higher economic status, and exhibit the ability to maintain stable relationships.
How can we measure it?
- Conversations/ simple talks– In this method, we can learn and understand the basic behavior of the individual. For example, for experienced health care providers, only a few minutes would be required to form a conjectured understanding of their patients’ coping abilities. During a health concern or matter, we tend to rely on our basic instincts, which cause our most authentic and inherent behavior to surface. Therefore, during the initial interview with patients, patient behavior and mental attitude toward life can often be revealed to practitioners.
- Other approaches involve scientific tools like – surveys.
However, solely the practice of positivity is not enough; we also need to act. The ability to connect thoughts and actions can optimize productivity and functionality. Thus, to say that optimistic practice behavior is the direct cause of success is not the case; positive thinking triggers another chain of reactions, tools, and actions that, if adequately channeled, can enhance well-being.
Another approach to optimism is called adaptive thinking/behavior – which is our ability to grow and adapt while coping with something difficult like health-related concerns. The way we define failures in life would essentially determine our ability to adapt and change. For example, addressing failures to specific variables and explanations allows us to learn and adjust accordingly. In contrast, providing general reasoning to our failures we would end up blaming ourselves without any learning that can occur.
Use Your Imagination
Using one’s imagination assists in mentally preparing and planning the needed actions to move things forward. It allows us to create a mental model and connect it to attainable goals. In this way, you would be able to recognize a single small advantage in every scenario. Also, it can help you develop the ability to push yourself a bit harder each time to achieve your goal.
Genetic factors predetermine about 50-60% of our fixed setpoints for happiness and optimism qualities. However, at least 30-40% of our genetic predisposition can be changed by adequate practices and by adapting modified patterns of thinking and actions. This change in our cognitive and behavioral approach may require setting realistic and specific goals that are based on our past performances and preferably not based on a comparison to other peers’ abilities. Thus, we want to create a mental model that is practical in the sense that it considers our initial starting point, skills, capabilities, and demands.
How It All Connects to our Sense of Self-Value
If I perceive stress as a scary and paralyzing reaction, most likely I will also respond in such a way. Alternatively, those who see stress as a driving force that attracts productive actions will be less affected by the negative physiological responses associated with stress, such as physical and mental burnout. This leads us to the notion of focusing on the positive aspect in each element during challenging times. Those who can find meaning and self-value in their everyday lives will develop better defensive mechanisms and tools against stress and burnout.
“Sandwich Generation” Couples
One specific population that is shown to be continuously exposed to stressful living and possibly burnout are Sandwich Generation couples. This group of population represents couples in the labor force that care for family members at both ends of the lifespan (young children and elderly parents). Providing care for both children and aging parents, while maintaining a healthy work-family relationship, tends to cause higher levels of stress and burnout among Sandwich Generation couples.
The relationship between work and family issues were addressed and described in a study that tested and compared American and Israeli Sandwich Generation couples. Data from 120 Israeli couples and 75 American couples showed similar work hours and culture, yet they differed in their familial orientation.
Interestingly, the Israeli couples reported greater satisfaction from both their work and family than Americans. In addition, American women reported the work culture as more hostile to family life than the Israeli women. In dealing with both work and family problems, the Israelis described greater availability of family support than the Americans.
Thus, despite the increase in work and family demands, providing care while receiving assistance and support from the surrounding environment allow families to experience a strong sense of well-being, the essence of life. Indeed, taking care of loved ones contributes to better mental health, buffers against burnout, and elicits greater life satisfaction.
Our ability to stay positive and to be optimistic people may not just rely on stress re-education but also on how we address the stress in our lives and what type of meaning it cultivates for us.