Thursday, May 11, 2006

Optimism

According to the second installment of the happiness programme on the BBC the following makes people more happy:
a belief in God;
marriage (or civil partnership registration);
and an optimistic nature.

Belief in God, so the presenter said, gives us a sense of community and also causes us to look beyond ourselves. I can see how this might help, but unfortunately a faith is not something you can turn on or off. As far as I can tell it is something you have or do not have, it is not something you can work towards.

Similarly people may be fortunate or unfortunate when it comes to marriage - some may never find quite the right person, but human beings all need to love and be loved by someone.

Even though we can do little about faith or marriage we can do something about the third factor - our degree of optimism. It is something that can be learnt and it is something I need to learn. I blame my pessimistic nature on my upbringing. The Welsh, I think, have an especially pessimistic nature, as do the Scots, and the people living in Yorkshire and Lancashire, and those I have encountered in London... In fact the British as a whole are a pretty gloomy lot in my opinion, every silver lining has a cloud, and it is quite unusual to find anyone who is relentlessly upbeat. Sometimes I think we like it that way. We are the people who were left behind, who were too pessimistic to find a new land and emigrate - because, after all, out there things would only be worse. Optimism, it is said, was exported from the old world to the new world with those adventurous enough to seek out a new life. Yet optimism is good. Optimistic people are more creative (not really sure about that, some of my best pieces of work have been written with tears rolling down my face) - expect to do well and you will do well - that is what I've heard.

And the good news is that optimism can be learnt using positive psychology. What I have to do is quite simple:
challenge negative thoughts;
count three blessings every day;
and seek out the positive.

So to the accompaniment of REM's 'Everybody Hurts' I am happy to report that I made a start. Today I challenged the thought that I am never going to be able to clarify the motivation of the characters in my novel (as suggested by my agent). My three blessings were the cups of tea and coffee I had with my friends Irene and Jan, the unexpected early arrival home of Hodmandod Senior and the funny passages in a book I was reading (I shall review this as soon as I have finished it). The positive is that tomorrow will be better. I just wish I believed it.

5 Comments:

Blogger chiefbiscuit said...

I've never thpought about that before - how the pessimistic ones were left behind in Britain and the optomistic ones were the ones who emigrated ... among my ancestors I have Cockney, Northern English and a sealer from Middlesex - as well as Scottish (Highland and Border) and Northern Irish. They all appeared to have been pretty realisitc, grounded, strong-minded people. I don't know about being optomistic - just hard workers.
I'm sure the stock has remained in the pot from where all these people came from!
The British are renowned for knowing how to have fun - and they have the best senses of humour in the world without a doubt!
I like your approach - the challenge to negativity and abolishing of negative thoughts.
Recently I heard of someone who was challenged to, at the end of every day, think of one thing that inspired him, one thing that motivated him and one thing that encouraged him. Once he started to apply this, he found he was looking at life differently.
I've been meaning to give it a try myself. Perhaps I'll try tomorrow!

Fri May 12, 12:37:00 pm  
Anonymous Elizabeth said...

I agree and I have been thinking about it quite a lot for the last few years. Positive thinking is/can be learned behavior. One can exercise the muscles of positivity just like the biceps, triceps, et al. One has to get stronger to stay out of the Quagmires of Strife and Ill Will that surround us.I haven't figured out all the ways to rebutt negativity but I know some--walking with my dog Belle in the country/forest (like your walk for Huw)(though this morning we met a hunter in camouflage with a very long gun--pretty scary because I think he was poaching and I am not sure how close Blle came to getting shot)(one's methods are never foolproof), doing yoga (svaroopa is my brand), meditating for 20 minutes daily, reaching out to my students even when they are unable to overtly reach out to me, and reading and writing.

Fri May 12, 05:57:00 pm  
Anonymous Clare said...

Chiefbiscuit: Are the British renowned for knowing how to have fun? It is so interesting to hear how other nationalities view your own - something you rarely hear. The programme described a campaign for Scotland - to make the Scots more optimistic.

I have one observation about the British sense of humour - that is that it is always tinged with a little pathos - though I think humour works better that way.

I like those three challenges you mentioned - better than three blessings - which sounded a little schmaltzy to me.

Elizabeth: Thank you very much for your comment - I'm glad your dog Belle is all right. That did sound horrible.

I wish I could meditate - I have tried but not succeeded - and although I enjoy yoga I'm not much good - can't balance, get cramp and during the relaxation I very almost fall asleep!

Fri May 12, 11:24:00 pm  
Anonymous elizabeth said...

I am responding to Clare's comment on not being able to meditate. I believe the difference between meditating and not meditating is imperceptible, and that it is in the hairline difference that progress is made. My teacher says that you cannot tell when it is good or not, or bad or not, or anything or not, --it just is. There is only one big thing--you have to be sitting up, not lying down. I think this has to do with chemistry (energy). (I am read "one day the ice will reveal all its dead" and paying attention to the science). So--anyone can meditate. You just have to do it and the energy will rise.

Sat May 20, 10:44:00 pm  
Anonymous Clare said...

Thank you Elizabeth. That is very interesting that it only wordks sitting up... and most encouraging. I should have another go - aware that anything I do is doing something...this kind of makes sense to me. Thanks

Sun May 21, 07:58:00 pm  

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