Optimism - Glass Half Full

Optimism - Glass Half Full

By Sally Evans


How do I get my glass half full?

Can you learn to have a positive outlook? And if you could…how would that change your life?

Learned Optimism is a concept from leading psychologist, Martin Seligman. He argues that we can cultivate a positive perspective. With a more joyful outlook on life, he explains that we’re in a much better position to enhance our well-being.

“Life inflicts the same setbacks and tragedies on the optimist as on the pessimist, but the optimist weathers them better.” (Seligman, 2006: 312)

If you’d love to lead a life from a ‘glass half full with a slice of lemon’ perspective, then read on to learn more. 

Learned Optimism is a concept that says we can change our attitude and behaviours, mainly by recognising and challenging our negative self-talk and inner critic. If we can master this outlook, it’s been proven that it will benefit not just our mental health, but our physical health, our relationships, our approach to work, even our decision making.  

So how do we do it? How do we become optimists? 

Three cognitive distortions tend to underpin the way we understand our experiences: personalisation, pervasiveness, and permanence. By tackling these distortions, we can learn to be more optimistic.

We may find we blame ourselves when bad things happen – we personalise situations instead of recognising that bad (and good) stuff happens to everyone. 

We may find we tend to catastrophise about events – ‘Ill never find a good job’ or regale that things that aren’t great are permanent ‘I’ll never be a good driver’. All of these habits keep us from being optimistic. But there is a lot we can do to change and learn to be more optimistic.

Let’s start with some easy ones – 

  • Being grateful for our blessings; there will something that is going well in your life and it is so important that you notice it, appreciate it and are grateful it. It could be your health, your work, your home, your pets, your relationship, your garden. Focussing on what is going well and what you are grateful for, doesn’t leave room for much negativity on a daily basis. 
  • Helping others in greater need than us; there is a huge amount of research showing that doing a small kindness for others can significantly improve our perceptions of life and our life satisfaction. 
  • Challenging the value of our negative thoughts and beliefs; if we are having a bad day and notice our negative thoughts are taking priority, ask yourself – ‘Is what I am thinking and how I am thinking really helping me right now?

Negative thoughts can lead to anxiety and stress and really reduce your resilience, due to the effect on your brain (increasing cortisol, reducing serotonin). Tackle any negative self-talk head-on. 

Switching to more positive and optimistic thoughts or reframing how you are thinking on a regular basis will really improve your optimism and your wellbeing long term.  

Sally is the Founder of LifeBuddy.

She is an Organisational Development consultant and is a Practitioner with the Association for Business Psychology.