Optimism – reacting to setbacks from a presumption of personal power
- Bad events are temporary setbacks
- Isolated to particular circumstances
- Can be overcome by my effort and abilities
Pessimism – reacting to setbacks from a presumption of personal helplessness:
- Bad events will last a long time
- Will undermine everything I do
- Are my fault
Optimism psychology is in the field of cognitive science. It is not magic. But, the event-explanations of optimism can be practiced and learned, even by those who have not consistently used them previously.
- Inoculates against depression
- Improves health
- Combines with talent and desire to enable achievement
Working with Metropolitan Life Insurance Company, Dr. Seligman studied optimism in insurance agents. He learned that life insurance agents are a stunningly optimistic group. Metropolitan Life used an the insurance industry career profile to help screen new agent hires. In 1985, 15,000 applicants took both an attributional style questionnaire and Met Life’s career profile. One thousand agents were hired based on the career profile alone, as MetLife had done in the past. However, MetLife had a chronic shortage of agents and also hired 100 agents who scored just below the cutoff point on the career profile but in the top half of the ASQ.
After two years, the optimists in the regular group of hires were outselling the pessimists by 31%. Amazingly, however, the special hires outsold the pessimists in the regular force by 57%!
One of Dr. Seligman’s graduate students, Harold Zullow, an avid political observer, applied the CAVE technique to the acceptance speeches of presidential candidates from 1948 through 1984. He learned that the more optimistic candidate won virtually every time. He then went back and analyzed the “stump” speeches of presidential candidates from 1900 through 1944. Again, the more optimistic candidates trounced those with a less optimistic explanatory style.
In other studies, more optimistic societies (using West and East Berlin ) achieve more than those with a pessimistic explanatory style. (See the work of Princess Gabriele of Ysenburg.) And, relgions and cultures that promote a sense of helplessness produce a people less prone to act in the face of adversity.