Optimism, Over-Rated

I love self-assessments.  Until I don’t like the results.

You know how it goes.  You go digging deep into your psyche, and you know you’re going to confirm what you already know about yourself.  And then it’s the exact opposite.  And in an area that you’re pretty sure about.

When I was a kid, my sister always accused me of being a starry-eyed idealist.  I don’t think she meant it as a compliment, but that’s how I took it.  I always would’ve rather to be optimistic and see the silver lining and the good in every person and situation.  I even started a  blog with this theme.

Imagine my dismay when I took authentichappiness.org’s optimism test and I came out to be a pessimist.  Seriously???  And my test for positive emotions (PANAS) indicated that I am in the mere 65-72nd percentile for positivity and 46-53rd for negativity.

If I didn’t know that these tests were rigorously developed and tested, I might’ve dismissed them as being inaccurate.   So instead I contemplate the results.  In the optimism test, I scored high on the hope part of the test, but poor on the internal/external portion.  In other words, when things don’t go well, I look internally instead of externally for culpability.  Admittedly, not only do I look internally pretty much every time, but when I feel like I f**d up, I brood about it until I have figured out how to improve it next time around.  Sometimes I just drive myself nuts.

The point here is that those negative emotions of guilt and stress motivate me to improve.  If my emotions were 100% positive, what would be my incentive to change?  The same is true at the opposite extreme – 100% negative emotions would make me feel like “what’s the point?”  So maybe a somewhat positive PANAS score is conducive for growth.

Contrary to this somewhat intuitive assertion is Barbara Frederickson’s broaden and build theory (Positivity) which posits that positive emotions create an upward spiral starting with broadened awareness, exploration, expansive thinking, increased creativity and experiential learning.  So, given this theory, where is the sweet spot for negativity?  Are there any benefits to psychological discomfort?  Or, when it comes to positivity, is “more” better?

6 thoughts on “Optimism, Over-Rated

  1. It seems to me there is one very important benefit to “psychological discomfort”. It can be used as a tool/indicator to search inside ourselves to see how we are contributing to a situation. It can also help us look outside to get feedback on ‘normal’ when we struggle with deciphering it ourselves.

  2. Lift me up or drag me down? I like lift ups. It’s probably semantics/definitions, but negativity to me conveys just that, negative results. I see what you speak of as realism, or awareness. Positivity or negativity may be what we focus on. Believing I can be better aids getting there! 🙂

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