Always look on the bright side of life…

Optimistic women live longer – the self-satisfied cows.

Optimistic women live longer, according to the results of a new survey.

Well, that’s me buggered then….

I am an arch pessimist. I mean, I don’t mean to be, but when I filled in the psych questionnaire on Authentic Happiness, I was off the scale for pessimism, much to my surprise.

I think of myself as a happy person, or at least a contented one. But optimism, in psychological terms, doesn’t mean being happy. It’s more the state of mind where you feel that setbacks and bad things are temporary or unusual (ie: out of the ordinary), that good things are par for the course (ie: ordinary), and that you have the power to change things.

Optimism of this kind is something that I simply don’t have, and personally I blame religion for a lot of it.

‘You laugh now – but later you’ll weep…’ is a common saying that many of we (ex)Catholics grew up with. A continual state of being told not to get too full of yourself, not to relax for a moment, because God is watching and if you let your guard down, he’ll have you for breakfast (just to teach you a lesson for being uppity).

It is not the way to raise a confident, outgoing child and it’s quite possible, of course, that once this attitude is ingrained it isn’t so much fixable as liveable-with (ooh, how optimistic of me…).

The changes that psychological (and/or physical and/or sexual) abuse make in your brain at a young age lead to life-long anxiety and depression – at least for women.

When placed in stressful situations such as having to speak in public or do mental arithmetic in front of an audience, such women produce very large amounts of adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) and cortisol. Overproducing cortisol your whole life means that your life will probably be shorter – it’s a big strain on the heart. 

So is there any good news, if you’re not naturally optimistic? Well, you can learn to be more optimistic. Start by buying Learned Optimism by Martin Seligman (links below) to find out how – by practising hard for a couple of years, I’ve raised my overall score to a whopping -2 (‘very pessimistic’, LOL) and now only have a score of 6 – ‘moderately low’ – for self-esteem. This may not seem much, but it is a massive improvement from where I was at two years ago. (For instance, this morning, I managed to stop myself double-thinking that my lung x-ray would show cancer just to spite me because I’d been arrogant enough to think it might not be cancer…)

And, in fact, being pessimistic can also be a good thing – in some walks of life and some situations, pessimism is just what you need. Indeed, as Seligman says, optimists make good salespeople, but they make bad lift inspectors! 



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