Optimism is a trait that increases a person’s immunity to stress. I mentioned in the previous post there was some controversy about this. I believe the main reason there is controversy is because some people define what it means to be optimistic in different ways.
Some experts quote anecdotes from prisoners of war in Vietnam and World War 2, where survivors pointed out those that believed they would be out by Christmas lost hope when they weren’t rescued, and they subsequently died. So they surmised that optimism was the problem. Other studies point to optimists not preparing for dangers because they believe that everything will be fine.
I don’t consider those people optimists. I consider them delusional. They didn’t have a grip on reality. That’s what caused the problem.
An optimist is someone who can accept the hard and brutal truths, someone who has a firm grip on reality, and yet can reframe the situation in the most positive light. As opposed to negative, cynical people that have a tendency to catastrophize. So an optimist understands the gravity of a situation and yet can still look for a silver lining.
Cynical and pessimistic people tend to look at problems as permanent and over which they have no control. Optimists tend to look at problems as temporary and they know they can affect the outcome.
The research is clear, that optimists do better in disasters. They suffer less of the negative aspects of stress.
In my 20 years of policing I have seen many optimists and pessimists under stress and facing significant obstacles. The optimists still prepare for danger. I’m not talking about Pollyanna, believing everyone loves them. They just know that despite the dark challenge they are facing, in the end they will triumph over it.
Despite the fact they are dealing with the worst society has to offer, they know that people are basically good, that challenges are temporary, and that they can have a positive influence on the outcome. The same can’t be said for the cynics who demonstrate learned helplessness. They stop trying.
Optimism is a key resiliency factor being taught to the U.S. Military in the Comprehensive Soldier Fitness Program. It can be learned, it can be used even in demanding combat situations, and it will reduce stress injuries.
My challenge to you: The next time you are facing a difficult situation, reframe it in a more positive light, and have faith that you will emerge triumphant!