The ability to see the "glass half full" helps us to live fully and happily and is good for health. To become more positive it is not just "happy ending" of everything, but to try to extract the good part of the obstacles encountered in life, they never cease to exist.
By Diogo Antonio Rodriguez, Gustavo Ranieri & Leandro Quintanilha
When I was little, one of the things people noticed about me was the early pessimism. It was common to say "it won't work" and "not enough time" in different situations. I did not believe that I could be able to memorize the capitals of all Brazilian states and suffered a lot before the geography test. The shock was even greater at the time to memorize the rivers connecting to the Amazon River. "My god, I won't make it."
It would be easy to get to the end of these pages just listing the hundreds (thousands?) of times I expressed a deep skepticism about the famous "happy ending" of things. But that's not the most important thing. Although today my desperation is less, my pessimism is firmly planted, kind of hiding. Whenever there is a deadline or something to resolve that distant voice echoes the phrase that I am tired of repeating: "It will not work." Therefore, there could be biggest challenge for me, to understand the optimism. Like any good pessimist, always looked for that feature with some suspicion, even contempt. It is possible to be optimistic in a world so wrong, inaccurate and unpredictable? It must hurt to look at the world with eyes of Pollyanna size the risk of overlooking some hidden danger.
Created by writer Eleanor H. Porter in 1913, the girl who sees what is good in all situations became a symbol of optimism, for good or for evil. The "game of I'm glad" created by the father of the character, always tries to extract the good part of the obstacles encountered in life. She even became part of the Websters dictionary, defined as a person of "unbridled optimism". Again the old distrust appears here: how can someone be so positive? Only if that person has no contact with reality. Being optimistic, say the pessimists, is a cowardly escape. Is it? Being optimistic is not that you are limited to positive thoughts only, says psychologist Lydia Weber. Its foundation lies in the way we think about causes. The difference between the optimist and the pessimist is in how they explain the cause of good or bad events that happen to them in everyday life, i.e., how is your "explanatory style."
If you have difficulty seeing what is positive in different situations in our lives, if you focus more on your problems than on solutions, it may be that your emotional style is slightly resilient, as defined by American neuroscientist Richard Davidson, author of The Emotional Style brain. Meaning, you and I have difficulties to recover from adversity. For example, you (or I) might think you will never be able to deliver a job that is equal or better to what you actually done (this issue, just to give an example). You'll focus on what you consider to be process failures: did I have enough sources? Did I read all the books that should have? Should I not have written more versions of the text?
Not that these questions are the problem itself. The issue is that those who have little resilience have trouble getting rid of feelings of anger, sadness, or any negative emotion after losses, adversities, setbacks or other hassle. They not only recover faster from any adversity, but the optimistic have the ability to remain positive for long periods of time. For Davidson, this translates into a dimension of emotions called attitude: People with good humor tend to be optimistic; people whose moments of joy can be measured in microseconds often feel chronically sad or are pessimistic.
The longest duration of happy times is not the only advantage of being a "polianne". Optimists also have better health. Research shows that this way of looking at life decreases the chances of cardiovascular diseases and improves the immune system response. According to the medical school of Harvard, pessimistic men have twice the chance of developing any heart disease in relation to three times more optimistic and to have hypertension. Some people are naturally positive. For them, it comes easy, they think on the good side of things without effort, are half Pollyannas. But others do not. Neuroscience is discovering that there are several ways the brain record and process emotions, with a large variation. It's a very personal characteristic. Some are extremely perseverant, optimistic, needs to give hit the wall many times before giving up, which is an important factor in deciding which activity you engage in, explains neuroscientist Suzana Herculano-Houzel.
Well, it would be useless to insist on this point, after all, who has these characteristics is actually born with them and ready. And who are genetically determined to be pessimistic, to see the grayer side of things is also doomed, right? Maybe not. Perhaps optimism is something to be conquered and may be within the reach even of who is considering this approach is not possible. So says Davidson in The Emotional Brain Style. He said that if we can not all be Pollyannas or whistling happy tunes in tense moments, we can inject optimism gradually.For more than 30 years researching the relationship between emotions and the brain, Davidson says, first, that, much as many of our characteristics are determined by genetic material inherited from our parents, we still have a certain power over the brain.Even in some aspects with hereditary component, the genes do not explain the whole picture, he wrote. We now know that even genetic characteristics can be modified considerably by the experiences of children and according to the way they are treated by parents, teachers and others, says the researcher. Among those features that can be worked, is optimism.
But how can we do this anyways? We need to understand, first, that being optimistic doesn't mean we are ignoring reality. Being optimistic is knowing yourself and the variables that control our behavior, it means, we need to know our limits and understand that there are problems in the world, says Lydia Weber. The pessimist is seen as someone more down to earth, but that's not the whole truth. It's possible to see the reality with good eyes and at the same time without creating fantasies.
Professor of theology at PUC-SP, Jorge Claudio Ribeiro defines optimism as a "trust-based". It is not a definite thing, forever, but it's kind of a muscle you will be exercising. When you have developed well, you work projects, don't even ask if it will not work.
To imagine such extreme stress is easier with a concrete example. Viktor Frankl (1905 - 1997), a Jewish Austrian psychologist, was arrested during the Nazi regime and held in the concentration camp of Auschwitz. He was released and began to reflect on the experience, and one of the questions he asked was, "why certain people resisted and eventually got released and others sank and ended up not getting released?". He noted that the "hidden phrase" the person was supposed to say was not "if I leave", but "when I leave," says Ribeiro.
If one is absolutely logical and rational (ask yourself): why are we living for? Why strive to do anything, if we will die in the end anyways?, says Suzana Herculano-Houzel. How, then, change our attitude? Is it possible? Everyone gets out of bed because our brain has the ability to form this concept, that the effort is worth it, that good things will happen if you struggle, says Houzel. And that is anchored in scientific research that it is possible to change certain aspects of "emotional style", as defined by Richard Davidson, so we can work our the optimism. The emotional style that was formed in adulthood need not maintain unchanged forever, writes the scientist. The brain has a property called neuroplasticity, which is the ability to modify considerably its structure and activity patterns, not only in childhood but throughout adulthood.
More importantly, the scientist points out, is that we can change these defaults. Previously, medicine believed that each part of the brain was a fixed function and the temperament of a person was determined by their genetic and environmental features. Once an adult, one person, for example, shy, would be bound to shyness. Davidson had to make numerous studies to understand these ideas were wrong: it is possible to take control over how the stimulus travels through the brain.
For this to occur, it is necessary to use mental exercises to stimulate certain parts of the body, according to the result you want. For example, who is resilient (recovers easily from adversity) has a strong connection between the prefrontal cortex and the amygdala. In this case, the first structure is to send signals to the amygdala, which is responsible for feelings like fear and disgust. Pessimists have a few of these connections, which means that the amygdala is more active and sends negative signals to the brain.
The output, says Davidson, is to train "neural circuits" (the connections that our brain activates when it receives some information) to take other paths. And this is possible. Some methods can create this virtuous circle. Cognitive therapy, a form of mind training, is one of them. You learn to understand how the thoughts flow and dealing with negative ideas.
Another method is the meditation subject of several studies to Davidson. He realized that it can activate areas of the brain that balance thoughts from very anxious people or very pessimistic people. Some weekly hours of practice are enough to change the pattern of neuronal circuits and encourage positive thoughts. According to him, meditation makes us better cope with stress and this makes us able to recover even more quickly from adversity, seeing the world with more optimistic eyes.
Davidson describes the results of a study in volunteers that are not meditators: The usual route taken by the changed neuronal signals, like water followed by a path and a stream "after a sudden storm" adopts a different course, digging a new channel. Like water that wants a new path, the change of direction does not come right away. If you're used to doing things a certain way, it will be easier to continue in the old way than to explore a new one.
That's why it is important to understand that, whether through meditation, or cognitive therapy, to get closer to the optimism is a matter of practice, not only will. To take control of the thoughts you must have patience and technique. A river does not change course from one week to another and we could not move from pessimistic to optimistic spectrum so quickly. The difficulties, however, should not stop us, but as an incentive to begin to accustom our eyes to envision a brighter side of life.