In November I wrote about keeping a gratitude journal, a journal in which you literally write a list of things in which you are grateful for. Over time the journal builds a more grateful attitude, a useful tool for being happier. Professionals recommend an additional strategy when writing a gratitude journal; apply optimism in your journal writing. The most comprehensive look at what optimism is that is available online was written by Max More in 1998 (Dynamic Optimism) and has 2 parts:
Part 1: Interpreting experience positively
- Selective Focus: Emphasizing the enjoyable, constructive, open aspects of life.
- Refraining from Complaining: Avoiding pointless complaining and whining about one’s difficulties. Taking the world as it is and not complaining that life isn’t fair.
- Questioning Limits: A constructive skepticism that challenges the limiting beliefs held by ourselves, our associates, and our society. A fundamental creative openness to possibilities.
- Sense of Abundance: Feeling free to do what you want, rather than feeling compelled by circumstances or people. Recognizing the world to be full of opportunities. Being for things, not against things.
- Humor: Seeing one’s own shortcomings with a sense of humor. Allowing healthy, good-natured humor to reveal new perspectives and combat dogmatic thinking. (More, 1998)
Part2: Influencing Outcomes Positively
- Rational: Using reason rather than being lead by fears and desires. Objectively assessing situations and taking action based on understanding reality apart from our wishes.
- Self-Improving: Optimists see the self as a process and seek continual improvement. Their drive to improve is not pushed by fear but pulled by a inspiring self-image.
- Experimental: Frequently trying fresh approaches, staying out of ruts, actively seeking more effective ways of achieving goals, and being willing to take calculated risks.
- Self-Confident: Believing that we can bring about good things. A fundamental conviction of competence in living.
- Self-Worth: Believing one is worthy of success and happiness. Without this, attempts to improve one’s life will lack motivation.
- Personal Responsibility: Taking charge and creating the conditions for success. Being aware of how we determine our chances of success. This crucially involves integrity: living according to one’s values.
- Selecting Environment: Being attracted to positive people and situations. Seeking out those who will support and inspire, not discourage, distract, and undermine.
DYNAMIC OPTIMISM is an active, empowering, constructive attitude that creates conditions for success by focusing and acting on possibilities and opportunities.
Merely believing that everything will work out fine without taking action makes one a foolish optimist, not a dynamic optimist. For optimism to give us the power to overcome the limits in our lives it needs to fully recognize reality, not hide from it. For optimism to maximize our abilities and happiness, we have to take responsibility for our thoughts, our attitudes, and our actions. This world is full of possibility. We can achieve almost anything we can conceive. Yet we will move forward only by turning dreams into practical, rational, responsible thinking. This kind of thinking will naturally generate productive activity. (More, 1998)
To also practice optimism when writing your gratitude journal you simply add a negative event and ask the following questions about it?
- What will be the first sign this is no longer affecting me?
- How will I know I have bounced back?
- What evidence do I have that this event is something that affects most people, and isn’t necessarily my fault?
- Since it happens to others, does it make sense to continue to blame myself?
- What can I do today to bounce back from this?
- If this event didn’t happen, how would I have spent my emotional energy? What would I have done in its place? (source)
- Also consider what about optimism applies here. Maybe humour, should I laugh at this? Maybe I wasn’t being rational, maybe I need to select a better environment? Am I taking responsibility where circumstances warrant it? etc.
There exists a substantial amount of evidence that by changing our thinking we can change our moods (with a few exceptions). In fact, Cognitive-Behaviroual Therapy is based on this principle. We can use our journal to train our thinking to be more optimistic and grateful at the same time. Getting to the source of what made an event negative helps us to understand and deal with it better. In a future article we will look at the cognitive distortions that make an event seems negative to further understand why a negative event is not as bad as we think.