Towards Optimism and Greater Resilience

Jerry Kennard Health Pro
  • January is traditionally a time for fresh beginnings. Whether you resolve to stop smoking, take more exercise or lose a couple of pounds, the common thread is positive thinking.


    Positive thinking is manifested by optimism and motivation. Although pessimists are considered more likely to see the world for the way it really is, optimists have certain advantages. The psychologist Martin Seligman says optimists respond better to stress, suffer less depression and are more likely to set and achieve personal goals. If that isn't enough, optimists are reckoned to live over seven years longer and even seem to have better lung function and a healthier immune system.

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    So, who are the optimists? From what we know about half the population consider themselves optimists. Of these, slightly more women than men say they try to look on the bright side of life. This isn't to say optimists feel trauma, tragedy or adversity any differently, but they do appear to have the capacity to recover more easily. Neither do optimists have particularly easy childhoods. In fact resilience often appears to be acquired during difficult childhoods and provides a level of experience and protection that an adversity-free upbringing would lack.


    Resilience is an adaptive response. It's the bounce-back from experiences we find stressful, threatening or traumatic. Resilience draws on a number of different factors but most evidence to date suggests that caring and supportive relationships are of central importance. Other factors include communication skills, problem solving, planning and organizational skills and a positive sense of self.


    The American Psychological Association suggest 10 ways to build resilience. In summary these include;


    Making connections with people and groups.

    Looking past the present and towards a time when things will improve.

    Accepting that change is part of life and that not all goals may be attained.

    Taking decisive action.

    Look for opportunities for self-discovery.

    Nurture a positive sense of self.

    Keep things in perspective.

    Maintain a hopeful outlook.

    Look after your own needs and feelings.

    Find your own ways to help strengthen your resilience.


    Learning from past experience is a powerful way to build personal strength. The combination of reflection and flexible thinking seem to be important factors for emotional wellbeing. For resilience to develop it is important that you allow yourself to experience strong emotions, whilst acknowledging they sometimes have to be put to one side, to allow you to function.


    Relying on others is good, but so is relying on yourself. Ultimately, it is you that needs to step up and take action when it is needed, and it is you that needs to recognize when it's time to power-down and relax. This level of self-awareness is more effective still when you are surrounded by reliable people and resources.

Published On: January 05, 2009