Imagine you take two dogs and put them in two different areas… You shock the first dog and you give him an option to escape.
He tries to escape, he’s successful, and he gets away from the shocks.
The second dog however, you put in a place where no matter what he does, he cannot escape the shocks.
He soon figures out that there’s nothing he can do, he gives up, and he’ll just sit there and accept the shocks.
Now you take these two dogs and put them in two new areas again, but this time they can both escape. The first dog, who had learned that he was able to escape, will get out of there like usual. But the second dog will just lay there and accept the shocks, even though in this new environment he could just escape.
This is what is known as learned helplessness, and you probably know people who act like the helpless dog.
The opposite of this is learned optimism. Learned Optimism is basically the idea that you can learn to be optimistic, and positive, and happy.
You can cultivate these things. And this is exactly what Seligman was trying to do, by running a workshop.
The results of the workshop were promising… Thirty-two percent of the students in the control group had a moderate to severe episode of depression in contrast to 22 percent of the group that was in the workshop.
Also… 15 percent of the controls had an episode of generalized anxiety disorder versus only 7 percent of people who took the workshop.
They also found that it was the change from pessimism to optimism that caused the prevention of depression and anxiety.
And these studies are great, but even when I look at my own life, happiness, positivity, optimism… These are the things that I’ve had to learn and that I have to keep cultivating. When I was a kid, I hated my life. I was constantly depressed and anxious.
I had suicidal thoughts for the majority of my childhood. But that’s all gone now and my life just keeps getting better, but this is something that you need to put effort into.
This is something that can be learned. So now let’s look at the benefits of optimism… Optimists on average achieve more, have better overall health, and just lead a more enjoyable life.
Pessimists, on the other hand, are more likely to give up, are more likely to suffer from depression, and just lead a not really enjoyable life.
And the big difference between pessimists and optimists comes from their explanatory styles about whether things are permanent, pervasive, and personal… So let’s say you walk up to a girl, and you just get humiliated and rejected…
If you’re a pessimist you’ll think that it’s permanent:
“I’ll never be able to attract a girl.” If you’re an optimist, you’ll think that it isn’t permanent: “There are going to be plenty of girls who
like me.” If you’re a pessimist you’ll think that it’s
pervasive: “I’m just not an interesting person.”
If you’re an optimist, you’ll think that it isn’t pervasive: “It was just one isolated situation. It doesn’t mean that I’m not interesting.”
If you’re a pessimist you’ll think that it’s personal: “I’m ugly. Of course she’s going to humiliate me.”
If you’re an optimist, you’ll think that it isn’t personal: “Well, she might have been in a bad mood…”
And I’ve seen this so many times. If you have a pessimistic explanatory style, you’re going to have your soul crushed. Every single friend I’ve had who was good with women always had an optimistic explanatory style.
So optimism is much more helpful to you than pessimism but you also NEED BALANCE, Just like with everything else, YOU NEED BALANCE… Otherwise, you can get really delusional and actually end up hurting yourself. Imagine if you have a really bad business
idea and you’re just a naïve optimist…
The business isn’t going anywhere and you say, “Well, this isn’t permanent…” And you keep wasting resources on a stupid idea. You’ve put in six months already and it hasn’t gone anywhere and you say, “Well, it’s just this part of the project that’s slow, but the project as a whole is amazing.”Or you try to get support and no one wants to go along with your terrible idea and you say, “Well, they were probably just in a bad mood today.”
I don’t know if I would call this person an optimist or just an idiot.
The biggest problem with optimism is when it’s not balanced, because you might end up not taking responsibility when you need to.
So I would absolutely recommend being optimistic but at the same time balancing it out with pessimism, or not even pessimism in my opinion, but just simply realism.