Optimistic or Pessimistic? The Reality of Rose-Colored Glasses

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How negative events are thought about is what separates optimists from pessimists. Most of us express both pessimism and optimism, but express one view noticeably more than the other.

It is said that optimists see the world through rose-colored glasses, and they do. The "glasses" are a metaphor for more than choosing happy thoughts. Optimists mentally process negative events in a way that fosters motivation and problem solving. Pessimists process negativity in a way that makes addressing it seem futile.

If you have depression, looking at most everything with a pessimistic mindset may or may not be the root of your symptoms, but it will energize them.

How Pessimists Think

  1. Negative events are thought of as GLOBAL, and global happenings are too huge for one person to manage or solve.
  2. Negative events are considered STABLE, and stable things do not disappear nor are they easily changed.
  3. Negative events are an INTERNAL affair; it was your fault now and will be in the future when the negativity returns.

How Optimists Think

  1. Negative events are considered to be SPECIFIC, and a person can exert some control over specific problems. They can be assessed then modified, moved, fixed, or managed, at least to some degree.
  2. Negative events are believed to be UNSTABLE, which means they are temporary and may never occur again.
  3. Negative events are thought of as EXTERNAL; there is nothing within an individual that caused the negativity or that will instigate a repeat of the event.

Pessimists’ internally oriented thought process on negativity leaves them feeling overwhelmed, helpless, hopeless, and anxious (sounds suspiciously like depression). A mindset like this punches a hole in the motivation bucket. Who has the energy to address an event that is too big to manage, is a fixed situation, and is a punishment from the universe?

The optimists’ externally motivated thought process of negative events allows them to be hopeful and feel capable; it fosters motivation and problem solving. When negativity is viewed as a specific occurrence that is malleable, temporary, and not a reflection of personal worth, there is room for planning and action.

An Example

You are ready to leave for work in the morning, go out to your car, and discover the front window has been smashed. If an optimist, you will consider this a random occurrence that says nothing about you and may never happen again. You spout a few choice words and then begin considering how to get it fixed.

If your view is pessimistic, the incident would have happened because you deserved it. You haven’t the energy to address an overwhelming, immoveable situation that is likely to happen again anyway. The event validates that the world is dangerous and always against you.

The difference between these reactions is the difference between two sets of perceptions, two ways of thinking about the window. The result of the optimist’s perception can appear to others as rose-colored glasses, but optimists are not denying reality. Their thought process is objective and practical.

Source: Reivich, Karne J. (May 2010). Optimism and Well-being. National Association of School Psychologists. 38/7, 10+.

 
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