September 14, 2020
In the midst of global challenges, many people are drawn to commiserating together. Sharing our hardships is a way to connect and validate our experience. While this response is extraordinarily appropriate, we can also go too far. We can see the world in bleaker terms than it truly is. We can ultimately lose hope.
What is significant to consider, though, is that no one truly knows whether the future will be brighter or bleaker. Epidemiologists and public health officials are unable to provide exact predictions for COVID. Market pundits cannot tell us how the stock market will fare. Remarkably, this open-endedness gives us grounds to choose our mindsets. Do we spiral down the rabbit hole of pessimism, or do we choose optimism?
Psychology points to the power of optimism. Research shows that more optimistic people have better relationships, show more persistence in their academic pursuits, and even have higher incomes.
My colleagues and I found that remaining optimistic amid adversity was even protective of well-being. We followed Greek college students over multiple time points through the Greek bailout referendum in 2015. The longitudinal design enabled us to track baseline mindsets and well-being, and also changes to them. Students who were optimistic before the referendum announcement had smaller decreases in their well-being as compared to those who were not; staying optimistic also protected against lower well-being. Therefore, optimism had resilience-generating capacities.
What might the application be here? I dare suggest that we can and should choose optimism. This is because, in an uncertain future, we can certainly control our thinking toward it. Remaining hopeful is a self-fulfilling prophecy that can generate resilience and positivity.
In the Shawshank Redemption movie drama, the main character Andy Dufresne was wrongfully convicted of murder and sentenced to two life sentences in prison. “Hope is a dangerous thing,” was the advice from his prison mate Red, who encouraged him toward stoic realism given the brutalities of prison life. Yet, Andy held on to hope. This quote from Andy is something that still resonates true with me – and I hope inspires you:
“Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.”
Let’s remain hopeful,
Dr. Louis Tay
Tay is an Associate Professor in the Department of Psychological Sciences. He has expertise in well-being, assessments, and data science. Be sure to check back each week for another wellness tip of the week!
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