Pursuing Happiness & Success: The Science of Positivity

It may sound like stating the obvious, but your outlook on life, impacts your life.  Outlook is powerful in that a positive vs. negative perspective has the capability of shaping our successes vs. fueling our failures, respectively.  People generally have a disposition towards one perspective, which drives daily behavior.  However, ultimately the choices you make are based largely on learned thoughts and beliefs—which can be changed. For example, you can believe the glass is half-empty; and in turn, feel deflated.  After another look you may decide half-full is a much better perspective.

The topic of positive thinking has been addressed extensively by psychologist and past-president of the American Psychological Association, Martin Seligman, PhD.   His Theory of Learned Optimism was actually born from a seemingly small interaction that he had with his daughter when she was five years old.   The pair, in the process of weeding the garden at their home, found themselves suddenly locked in an argument.  Seligman’s daughter Nikki started throwing weeds, instead of dutifully cleaning them up.  In turn, Seligman lost his temper out of irritation.  What he received by way of a response from the five-year-old got him thinking.

Nikki said, “Daddy.  From when I was three until I was five, I was a whiner.  I whined every day.  On my fifth birthday, I decided I wasn’t going to whine anymore.  That was the hardest thing I’ve ever done.  If I can stop whining, you can stop being such a grouch.”

The Concept of Positive Psychology

Seligman is famous for his role in founding the concept of Positive Psychology.  He engaged in research that further defined optimism and pessimism, pointing out some challenges with both.  Ultimately, the groups have some defining characteristics.  Consider the following:

Pessimists:  Tend to believe:

  • Bad events will last a long time.
  • Negative things impact everything they do.
  • Bad situations are their own fault.
  • Positive experiences are a fluke.

Optimists: Tend to believe:

  • Any misfortune they face is a temporary setback.
  • Defeat is not permanent, and not necessarily their fault.
  • Bad events are confined situations.
  • Positive experiences are to be expected.

Considering these characteristics, it is the optimist who is doesn’t become paralyzed by a defeat or when faced with a seemingly negative event.  When they are confronted with a bad situation, they have the capability of viewing it as a challenge, and make an effort to try harder.  In contrast, given the same circumstances, the pessimist is apt to become debilitated.  The good news, though, is that this pattern of thinking is one that is not necessarily permanent, even if it does have deep roots.  Seligman asserts that pessimists can learn how to think and behave optimistically—and this is not done by reading self-help books, hypnosis, or any product sold via infomercial.  Rather, it is accomplished by learning a new set of cognitive skills.

The ABCDE Theory

A framework to learn a new way of thinking, the ABCDE Method, was devised by Albert Ellis, who also developed Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy. It offers a clear framework where people can examine internal processes that power them in a new way.  This Method removes the “mystery” regarding why you might act the way you do or your response to specific events.  Providing mindful awareness, it is possible to use the ABCDE Theory in changing your pessimistic attitude. And in turn, change your behavior.

The letters in the name of this Theory stand for:

  • A = Adverse Event or Situation: Consider the negative event that triggered the emotional response in you. This would be whatever happened in the moment before you began feeling anxious, sad, angry, or upset.  Developing mindfulness in this regard can help you watch out for similar events in the future and better prepare yourself for dealing with them.
  • B = Beliefs about that Event: Conduct an internal dialogue with yourself about what something means. In order to take control, avoid judging a belief as either “right” or “wrong” and simply be aware of what that belief happens to be.  Oftentimes, it is discovered that beliefs are irrational, lack clear evidence, or are based on stereotypes and generalizations.
  • C = Consequences of those Beliefs: Reflect on the consequences and behaviors that occur because of a given belief. The emotions and outcomes are a function of each belief.  For instance, you can feel anxious about an outcome of a situation, and keep this internalized, or you might decide to withdraw physically from participating altogether because you are worried about the outcome.
  • D = Dispute the Belief: Have an argument with yourself in order to challenge each belief. It involves separating yourself from harmful or dysfunctional thinking.  Through the examination of your beliefs you can determine if the way you are thinking is based in reality; and even if it is, consider if it is an helpful to keep the negative perspective.  You can gain more self-awareness about the ways you think and behave.
  • E = Energization: Once you identify and clarify your beliefs or behaviors that might be fueling your emotions, then you will be energized to develop new ways of thinking that are based upon more plausible and reasonable beliefs.

In closing, remember you control your success and happiness. Among the things you are in charge of is your outlook, which is a key variable that impacts your future.   Utilizing a positive thinking style will facilitate your accomplishments and general well-being.   You may be fortunate and have a natural propensity towards optimism. However, if pessimism is your default perspective, you can teach yourself to look at things differently, which in turn will drive you to behave differently.

And so, if you believe your water bottle is half-empty, you’re apt to skip your run today due to fear of getting de-hydrated. But if you know your water bottle is half-full, you’ll do your five mile run and pace your water intake.  Besides, there is probably a water fountain en route…

For more information about how I can assist you in addressing your thinking patterns so that you may become more successful in your life and career, visit www.JPKantor.com today.