THE BLOG
08/26/2011 12:54 am ET | Updated Oct 26, 2011

Attitude Is Everything

When it comes to resilience, attitude really is everything. Having an optimistic view of yourself and confidence in your strengths and abilities creates conditions for success and healthier living.

To start, let me be clear. When I talk of optimism, I do not mean that rose-colored glasses, Pollyannaish-way of looking at the world. True optimists know bad things happen; they experience tragedy just like everyone else. But what separates optimists from their pessimistic brothers and sisters is how they move forward in their thinking and actions relative to those events.

Much of the way we view the world has been shaped by the messages we received as children. I was fortunate to grow up with women who were remarkable optimists. My mother and my maternal grandmother -- women who lived through great difficulties, such as the Great Depression, single-parenting, loss of children and spouses -- still managed to demonstrate the belief that things will always work out in the end. They taught me to live life with anticipation and a hopeful expectation towards a desired outcome predicated not on wishful thinking, but through dedication and commitment to the goal.

I was well into my teenage years when I learned that not everyone grew up learning this positive outlook. A dear, childhood friend was taught differently. She received messages such as:

  • Feeling good about yourself? Be forewarned. There will always be someone who can't wait to knock you down.
  • Just because you did good today doesn't mean you will tomorrow.
  • If you expect the worst, you'll never be disappointed.

According to Dr. Martin Seligman's theory of learned optimism, optimistic children grow up to be optimistic teenagers and adults. In his book, "Learned Optimism," Seligman states that there are three factors that determine a learned optimistic paradigm:

1. Optimism is acquired from our mothers. How our mothers reacted to problems set the stage for our own reaction to difficult situations. If mom dealt with everyday problems with a bright and hopeful outlook, then we, as children, learned to do the same.

2. Optimism is influenced by the adults around us. The way adults (parents, teachers) chastise us can leave a lasting impression on how we perceive our own abilities. (Thank God for my mom and grandmother. I attended Catholic school in the 1960s ... enough said.)

3. Optimism is shaped by family turmoil. Family crises such as divorce or the untimely or tragic death of a family member can contribute to a child's general view of life later life.

Optimism, according to philosopher and futurist visionary Dr. Max More is an "empowering, constructive attitude that creates conditions for success by focusing and acting on possibilities and opportunities." This is why optimists tend to recover faster from difficulties. When something bad happens to optimists, they view the circumstance as temporary rather than permanent; they see the situation as affecting a specific part of their life, rather than pervading all areas.

Now, some people prefer to label themselves as realists, explaining events just as they are. As writer Robert Brault so simply explained, "The realist sees reality as concrete. The optimist sees reality as clay."

Do you view life with optimism -- Braultian realism -- or are your more in line with George Will, who said, "The nice part about being a pessimist is that you are constantly being either proven right or pleasantly surprised" ? What's your worldview? I'd love to hear from you.

Enjoy your day ... or at least try to do so!

The Optimist: An Overview

1. Views life positively

2. Takes life as it is

3. Is open to possibilities

4. Has a sense of humor, particularly about one's self

5. Is rational:
--Uses reason rather than being led by fears and desires
--Objectively assesses situations
--Takes action based on those assessments

If you are looking to build an attitude of optimism, review the overview above. Select just one factor and make a commitment to it. Not sure where to begin, but want to do so? Afraid the task may be daunting? Your willingness to try, in and of itself, is an example of factor number three: Being open to possibilities -- the possibility of shifting your attitude. Now, that wasn't so hard, was it?

Rita also conducts stress management and resilience-building workshops provided by WorkTerrain, a division of KidsTerrain, Inc. and funded by the Massachusetts Dept. of Industrial Accidents, and she is actively involved with Maine Resilience, a program coordinated with the effort, materials and information offered by the American Psychological Association and the Maine Psychological Association through their Public Education Programs. Rita is an Associate Member of the International Positive Psychology Association (IPPA). Visit her online at www.ritaschiano.com and Red Room, where you can read her blog.