"do yard work" on the weekends), they are twice as depressed as
A healthy optimist is not blind; he/she faces facts and problems,
avoiding the denial of a pessimist. Also, do not confuse optimism with
simply a Pollyanna attitude. Optimists are not always cheerful,
everything isn't always "wonderful," although they are more ready and
able to see different ways to see and solve a bad situation. When it is
needed, they are more likely to change their diets, exercise more, give
up drinking, recover from suicidal depression, etc. They see
themselves as active agents influencing their futures. And, as change
agents, they may tend to become overly optimistic and, in deed, their
mental and physical well-being may improve as a result of their
unrealistic views of their ability to change things (Taylor, 1989). How
do you become a more active optimist? Should you even develop
positive illusions? Taylor says yes.
Seligman (1995) recommends raising self-reliant children to
protect them from depression and provides parents with many steps
for developing an optimistic child.. McGinnis (1990) also devotes an
entire book to increasing optimism and suggests 13 steps: (1) face
reality, expect bad times, and become a problem-solver, (2) look for
the good in bad situations, perhaps there will be a partial solution
there, (3) cultivate a faith in your self-control, (4) seek ways to renew
your spirit, your energy, and your devotion to a cause, (5) challenge
your negative and irrational thoughts, (6) learn to "smell the roses"
and appreciate life, (7) use your fantasy to rehearse for future
challenges, (8) smile, laugh, and find something to celebrate even in
hard times, (9) believe in the awesome power of humans--and you in
particular--to solve problems, (10) love many things passionately--
nature, art, play, but above all love people, (11) vent your anger but
temper it with empathy and tolerance, (12) don't complain, instead,
share good news with others, and (13) accept what can't be changed.
You will quickly realize that most of these prescriptions are described
in detail in this chapter or elsewhere in this book. An optimistic
attitude is a blessing. However, that doesn't mean that negative
thinking can't be used to advantage in some situations.
It is inevitable that with optimism being highly praised, there will
be critics. Julie Norem (2001) has written a book that says, what
should be obvious to thinking people, that negative thinking--
anticipating possible pitfalls and problems--can help some people plan
and prepare for trouble. This process can reduce some people's
anxiety if they come to (with coping strategies) believe they can cope.
Just reviewing over and over imaginary problems and worse-case
scenarios (without any idea how to handle them) will not calm most of
us nor make us more competent. Negative thinking can, no doubt, be
an asset in some situations for certain types of people (maybe all of
us); however, the advocates of "defensive pessimism" and critics of
optimism are basically using negative thinking to cope better and
bolster optimism. There are many different strategies.