June 4, 2010

Optimism the Key to a Successful Life

Growing up in an increasingly complex world means young people need the resources and skills to positively and successfully navigate their way through life.  My experience and research - which led me to establish the Optimistic Kids program – suggests that one of the best ways we can equip children to be resilient and thrive is to teach them how to view any situation or incident in an optimistic way.
This approach does not mean that negative or troubling events are trivialized into a falsely rosy picture. Instead, the ability to be optimistic allows a person to look beyond the immediacy of a negative experience and learn from it, so as to deal with it more effectively should that situation rise again.

Through promoting optimism, the strengths and resilience of children are fostered in a way that translates into every other aspect of their lives, maximizing their sense of achievement and well-being.

A significant amount of research on optimism has been carried out in recent years, with optimism defined as a set of expectations about the future that is markedly positive and hopeful.

Psychologists now understand that optimism forms a critical part of both mental and physical well-being. Both children and adults with an optimistic outlook experience better health, and are much more likely to bounce back from adversity, including chronic illness or bereavement.

In terms of mental well-being, individuals with an optimistic outlook are much more likely to view negative events as temporary, their own actions as highly effective, and tend to have more friends. They are more likely to experience greater success in academic, athletic, occupational and political fields, and, as a consequence, are much less likely to ever suffer depression or anxiety in their lives.

The single most exciting finding of all this research, however, is that optimism can be taught. It is malleable and flexible, and since it promotes problem solving, it allows the individual to respond in different, open-minded ways as the situation dictates.

It is important to note, however, that young people’s optimism tends to decline with age. This significant trend has been documented in several research studies and seems directly proportional to the onset of depression in early adolescence.

This is why fostering the optimism of children in a systematic way is so critical – This optimism does not have to decline, it can be maintained in a viable, adaptive way, so long as children are taught how to draw on the skills of optimism in a conscious way.

Promoting and teaching optimism in this way provides children and adolescents with a set of “thinking tools” that allows them to navigate life in a more productive, happier, even healthier, way.

The skills of optimism promote children’s ability to master tasks, be confident in their own actions, view their setbacks as opportunities for growth, and interact with their parent, family, and peers in an active, resourceful way.

Simon Andrews on behalf of Enough is Enough 

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