Positive Psychology Optimism Term Paper

Pages: 5 (1675 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 6  ·  Level: Master's  ·  Topic: Psychology

Positive Psychology: Optimism

The purpose of the present paper is to define and discuss the concept of "optimism" within the realms of positive psychology, exploring its relevance in this area. Positive psychology is a branch of psychology which has been developed only recently. Its declared purpose is to understand the psychological mechanisms and instruments which could be used in order to help people function positively, therefore striving in both their careers and personal lives.

While happiness deals with experiences of pleasure and things associated with it, it must be mentioned right from the very beginning that this is not the only issue that positive psychology deals with. "Positive psychology is the scientific study of the strengths and virtues that enable individuals and communities to thrive. According to Seligman (2002), positive psychology has three central concerns: positive emotions, positive individual traits, and positive institutions. Understanding positive emotion entails the study of contentment with the past, happiness in the present, and hope for the future. Understanding positive individual traits consists of the study of the strengths and virtues, such as the capacity for love and work, courage, compassion, resilience, creativity, curiosity, integrity, self-knowledge, moderation, self-control, and wisdom."( University of Pennsylvania)

Optimism is one of the strengths which positive psychology deals with. It is considered a strength because it is one of the elements which can help people orientate their behavior in a manner that will bring them advantages varying from a positive state of mind to success in the process of self development. Nevertheless, we must bear in mind the fact that "studies find that optimism is associated with better health, performance, longevity, and social success (Seligman, 1991; Lyubomirsky, King & Diener, 2005), but there is evidence that in some situations negative thinking leads to more accuracy and being accurate can have important consequences (Alloy, Abramson, & Chiara, 2000)." (University of Pennsylvania)

Another aspect which has been confirmed by researchers in the area is represented by the fact that optimism can actually protect people from physical and mental illnesses. In other words, a balanced perspective towards life enhances the energy levels in people allowing them to deal with life issues better on a daily basis. An optimist perspective on life may act as a buffer against stress, therefore diminishing the risks of health problems involving the heart. In addition, "people who are optimistic or happy have better performance in work, school and sports, are less depressed, have fewer physical health problems, and have better relationships with other people. Further, optimism can be measured and it can be learned (Seligman, 1991; Lyubomirsky, King & Diener, 2005)." (University of Pennsylvania)

It must be underlined that the role of positive psychology is not a prescriptive one. Research in the area is supposed to communicate its conclusions to the wide audience allowing people to make a conscious choice. Suffering exists and nothing can prevent it, but there are some things which we could do, some strengths that we could activate and cultivate in order to prevent extremely painful situations. Optimism enhances positive emotions and these act as buffers against mental illnesses. Another aspect that researchers underline is that prevention is much more effective than healing. Hence the importance of being able to be optimistic." Positive psychology interventions can both increase happiness and alleviate symptoms of depression (Seligman, Steen, Park & Peterson, 2005). (University of Pennsylvania)

Fredrickson (2001) found that positive emotion can "undo" negative emotion and be the building blocks of resilience that combat physical illness. Lyubomirsky's (2001) research on the conditions that enhance happiness has relevance for the practice of clinical psychology and the relief of mental disorders. Strengths function as a buffer against adversity and against psychological disorders, and they may be the key to resilience (Masten, 2001). "

Despite the general tendency to consider happy people as fools or ignorant, based on a life view which is tragic, medical and scientific research has actually demonstrated the fact that people who are optimistic undergo better results in work, in school and sports activities. In addition, optimist not only has a positive impact upon health (both physical and mental), but also upon the relationships with other people. Better relationships with other people improve the quality of daily life and are more likely to improve our state of mind. Therefore, we could assume that this is a circle -- like mechanism and that the individuals actually can take control upon their lives- or at least upon certain aspects, such as this one.

At this point it must be mentioned that not all scientists agree that there is a direct connection between health and optimism. While a great part of them state that there is link between our thoughts, the attitude towards life and the health of our mind and body, others underline the fact that no direct causal relationship has been clearly demonstrated on a scientific basis. "Evidence is thin. Statistical significance levels are narrow. What few robust findings there are often prove to be either nonreplicable or contradicted by later research. And correlations (between, say, happiness and health) are not causations." (Shermer)

Perception is another thing that must be brought into discussion. For example, people always overestimate the period that they need in order to heal themselves after an unpleasant episode such as the failure of a relationship for example. Although they repeat the experience, they still fail to see the objective truth. Another relevant example in this regard is represented by the frequency of positive and negative things which happen to people. Research in this area has proved that only rarely it is just one of the afore mentioned categories to dominate. On a regular basis, there ought to be a balance between the two. Therefore, we could assume that it depends on us how we perceive the surrounding reality (and this perception impacts our emotions and the way we relate to life).

The broaden-and-build theory (B. Fredrickson) states that there is a direct connection between experiences and emotions. In other words, there are feeling and emotion, such as joy and love which gives birth to interest in the individual making him explore the universe, enjoying this experience. The other way around "positive emotions promote discovery of novel and creative actions, ideas and social bonds, which in turn build that individual's personal resources, ranging from physical and intellectual resources, to social and psychological resources." (Fredrickson)

This is just another argument which supports the belief according to which good, positive thoughts will influence not only our mood, the quality of our actions and the quality of our health as well. As the theory suggests, one way of making sure that we can be optimistic is to involve ourselves in activities that are most likely to stimulate positive emotions. Play and social play for example are good stimuli in this direction. Experiments conducted in this area reveal that positive emotions actually broaden thought-action repertoires. "Positive affect produces a broad, flexible, cognitive organization and ability to integrate diverse material" (Isen, in Fredrickson)

As far as the process of actually building optimism is concerned, an experiment with interesting results has been conveyed in this direction. University students were tested in order to see whether their thoughts were optimistic or pessimistic. Those who could be considered rather pessimistic were sent to workshops with a psychologist, during which they had to debate their negative thoughts and argue rationally against them as if they were arguing with an external party. The used cognitive approach is called "disputing." The long-term result of the experiment was translated into a moderation of the depression rates and the diminishment to half of the generalized anxiety disorders. An important aspect of the whole experiment is represented by self knowledge and the capacity to analyze ourselves. The students would not have been able to fight their problem… [END OF PREVIEW]

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