“The past is a place of reference, not a place of residence; the past is a place of learning, not a place of living.” ― Roy T. Bennett, The Light in the Heart

There is a big difference between "being okay" and thriving. Much of the focus in the mental health and wellbeing space is around what we can do to treat and prevent illness. Yet, treating illness and preventing illness, ensuring that someone is “just okay” or “just getting by” is very different to enabling them to live a fulfilled, happy and purposeful life. One of the traits that can be cultivated in order to ensure that someone is not just “okay” but “thriving” and more resilient to life’s stressors, is optimism.

Martin Seligman, the founder of the positive psychology movement, highlights that optimists possess three traits: (1) they appreciate that set-backs are not permanent; (2) they realise that set-backs are just a normal part of life and not their fault; and (3) when something isn’t going so well in one area of their life, they don’t let it affect the other areas of their life. They are the 3 Ps of optimism (and also pessimism): pervasiveness, permanence and personalisation. So let’s say I’ve just been made redundant - if I had a more optimistic thinking style I may think (1) I do not feel great about this right now but this feeling will pass soon; (2) this isn’t my fault, in fact it’s nobody’s fault - these things happen - this may even be a chance for me to launch the business I’ve always wanted to launch; and (3) this part of my life isn’t going so well but at least I have a great partner, family & friends and lots of fun things planned to do over the next week or two. A more pessimistic mindset around this situation might involve thoughts such as (1) this is awful and it has ruined my life, I will never bounce back from this and get another job; (2) this is all my fault, I have been lazy and am not smart enough – it is also the rest of my team’s fault for not sticking up for me; (3) my whole life is ruined, how am I supposed to enjoy time with my partner and children with all of this going on?

Optimistic thinking patterns (such as those in the first example above) enable an individual to free themselves from obsessive, negative thoughts about the past or the future. Rather than worrying about what went wrong or what could go wrong, an optimistic mindset allows an individual to focus on (1) the learnings from mistakes; (2) how they can plan productively for the future; and (3) the fact that they are not merely a product of their past – they can and will change their life completely if they want to.

The good news in all of this is that if you are naturally more prone to pessimistic thinking patterns – that is not a bad thing because optimism is something that can be cultivated. We can train our minds to become more optimistic. Martin Seligman’s research indicates that training the brain to become more optimistic in this way can help to prevent conditions such as depression and anxiety but can also enable an individual to experience happiness too… it allows them to actually thrive and not just survive.

At byrne·dean we run training on resilience building that equips individuals with tools from positive psychology – that can help prevent mental illness but also encourages individuals to truly thrive in the workplace. Get in touch with me at uxshely.carcamo@byrnedean.com if you are interested in finding out more.

“Promise Yourself

To be so strong that nothing can disturb your peace of mind.To talk health, happiness, and prosperity to every person you meet.

To make all your friends feel that there is something in them. To look at the sunny side of everything and make your optimism come true.

To think only the best, to work only for the best, and to expect only the best. To be just as enthusiastic about the success of others as you are about your own.

 To forget the mistakes of the past and press on to the greater achievements of the future. To wear a cheerful countenance at all times and give every living creature you meet a smile.

To give so much time to the improvement of yourself that you have no time to criticize others. To be too large for worry, too noble for anger, too strong for fear,and too happy to permit the presence of trouble.

 To think well of yourself and to proclaim this fact to the world, not in loud words but great deeds. To live in faith that the whole world is on your side so long as you are true to the best that is in you.” 

― Christian D. Larson, Your Forces and How to Use Them