Tag Archive for optimism

A “Glass-Half-Full” Kind of Marriage

Are you a “glass-half-full” or a “glass-half-empty” kind of person? According to research, your answer could impact the future life and cognitive health of your spouse! A study (A happy partner leads to a healthier future) published in the Journal of Personality (2019) reported this link after following 4,500 heterosexual couples from the Health and Retirement Study for eight years. Specifically, the research suggests a link between being married to an optimistic person and preventing the onset of cognitive decline. It appears that being married to an optimistic person helps prevent the risk factors associated with Alzheimer’s, dementia, and cognitive decline.

How can this be? An optimistic person tends to focus on aspects they can change and control rather than dwell on those things they cannot change or control. As a result, they tend to eat healthier, exercise, and take better care of their body. After all, they believe these are things they can manage and even change. This lifestyle encourages their spouse to do the same.

An optimistic person also tends to see problems as temporary and specific. Combining this with their tendency to look for what they can manage and change, optimistic people become better problem-solvers.  When stressors arise, optimistic people view them as specific to situation, time, or person. They look for ways within their control to manage or change those “temporary” stressors. As a result, they manage stressors better and exhibit fewer of the emotional and physical consequences of stress. Once again, their spouses benefit from this problem-solving as well. They also learn to become more optimistic problem-solvers themselves in the process.

You might be thinking, “Well great because I’m not optimistic and neither is my spouse.”  Fortunately, you can learn to become more optimistic. As you can see above, optimistic people think differently. They view problems as temporary and changeable. They look for ways in which they can influence the stressors and problems they encounter. 

You can learn to do both things by paying attention to how you think. Change the “I can’t do anything about this” into “What can I influence in this situation?” Change the “This is never going to get better” or “This always happens to me” into “This is not good right now” and “This does happen sometimes.” Then ask yourself again, “Where do I have influence? What do I control in this situation?” (Read more on Nurturing Your Muscles of Optimism.) In other words, learn to respond to problems and stressors by considering:

  • What part of this situation do I have influence over? What can I do to help create change?
  • Is this stressor or problem specific to a time? a person? a situation?
  • How often does this really happen? Think of all the times it has happened differently.

Using these questions, you can begin to change your thinking to become a more optimistic person…and, in turn, contribute to your spouse’s happy and fulfilling life.

Nurture Your Children’s Muscles of Optimism

Optimism is not about wearing rose-colored glasses. Optimism is the muscle that focuses on “what I can do” rather than “what I cannot do.” It focuses on the importance of effort to grow and learn. It also realizes most difficulties are specific to a context and situation rather than “ruining everything.” Difficulties are temporary, not permanent. With this in mind, an optimistic person looks at a difficult situation or a failure and begins to explore what aspects of the situation they can influence. Then, they set about to exert their influence and produce a change. You can see why this muscle helps to prevent depression, increases perseverance, and promotes success. But, how can you nurture the muscle of optimism in your children? I’m glad you asked. Here are four practices that will help develop your children’s “optimistic muscles.”

  1. Acknowledge effort and strategy rather than global traits. Telling our children they are “smart” or “gifted” leads to children who avoid a challenge so they do not lose their position as “smart” or “gifted.”  Calling your children some global label, like “lazy” or “stupid,” contributes to them believing they cannot change. But, acknowledging effort communicates that success comes through effort, an important message. Acknowledging strategies (how your children go about reaching a goal) communicates that a momentary problem can often be overcome with a little strategically placed effort. This also opens the door to discuss alternative solutions when problems do arise. Children who know that effort and strategy produce positive ends learn to become optimistic children.
  2. Describe specifics rather than end results when praising your children. This helps your children focus on the process, the strategies involved in reaching a goal. It communicates that even if the end result is not perfect, some parts of the process are good. They can be built upon to create a better end in the future. So describe choices made, actions taken, or obstacles overcome rather than looking only at the end result. The trophy becomes more meaningful when the choices, actions, and perseverance displayed in achieving it are acknowledged, recognized, and described. This also helps your children know they have the power to influence the end result (the product) by adjusting their actions and choices during the process.
  3. Embrace mistakes as learning opportunities. Mistakes do not “ruin everything.” Instead, they represent a “temporary setback,” an opportunity to learn what did not work in a particular time and specific context. Celebrate the mistake as an opportunity to learn. Why did it not work in this situation? Is there ever a situation in which it might not be a mistake? Was the mistake a matter of timing? When, if ever, might it be helpful? How could you do it differently to avoid the same mistake in the future? How could you correct the mistake now? Thomas Edison reportedly said, “I have not failed 700 times. I have not failed once. I have succeeded in proving that those 700 ways will not work. When I have eliminated the ways that will not work, I will find the way that will” (The actual quote was likely somewhat different but making the same point. Read this from Quote Investigator to learn the documented quote.) Children who realize that mistakes are learning experiences are more likely to accept challenges, persist longer, and be more optimistic about their efforts. Embrace mistakes as learning opportunities.
  4. Try new things. Go new places. Experience new adventures. Sure, you might have some let downs, but they’re just learning experiences. You’ll also enjoy many exciting adventures. Your children will learn they can overcome obstacles that arise. Their confidence will grow as they step out of their comfort zones and survive…even have fun and thrive.

Put these four practices into place and over time you will see your children’s optimism grow. They can flex those “muscles of optimism” and experience greater success in relationships and life!

Build Muscles that Matter in Your Children

Our children need to have strong muscles to survive in this world. No, I’m not talking about biceps and pecs. I’m talking about the really important muscles, not the ones that will help them do chin-ups. These important muscles do more than look good and help them carry heavy grocery bags. These muscles help maintain an emotionally and relationally healthy

life. What muscles could do that? The muscles of resilience, emotional intelligence, and optimism. Like all muscles, resilience, emotional intelligence, and optimism can be trained and strengthened. Let me briefly describe each one.

  • Resilience is the muscle that gives them the strength to bounce back after a difficulty. Children who develop resilience exhibit better health over time. They report greater happiness and have more success. It only makes sense, doesn’t it? When resilient people encounter a setback, they bounce back. They get back in the saddle and try again. In other words, resilience is a muscle that stabilizes persistence and promotes consistency. (Read Happy Families Bounce Back for tips on practicing resilience as a family.)
  • Emotional intelligence is the muscle that helps children manage their own emotions and get along with others. Interestingly, emotional intelligence has been shown to have a greater impact on success than academic achievement. Emotional intelligence means children can manage their emotions, remain calm, and resolve conflict. It means they can better read the emotions of those around them and adjust their own behavior accordingly. It underlies the ability to influence people, build cooperation, and promote harmony. You can see why emotional intelligence seems to be a crucial muscle for successful managers, team players, CEO’s, and supervisors. Our children need this muscle to be tone and fit, relationally happy and successful. (Read When Your Children Get Angry for a process that can help you train your children’s muscle of emotionally intelligent.)
  • Optimism is not about wearing rose-colored glasses. Optimism is the muscle that focuses on “what I can do” rather than “what I cannot do.” It focuses on the importance of effort to grow and learn. It also realizes most difficulties are specific to a context and situation rather than “ruining everything.” Difficulties are temporary, not permanent. With this in mind, an optimistic person looks at a difficult situation or a failure and begins to explore what aspects of the situation they can influence. Then, they set about to exert their influence and produce a change. You can see why this muscle helps to prevent depression, increases perseverance, and promotes success. (Read Growing Your Child’s Mind for Success and Build Your Child’s Success Mindset for some ideas on strengthening this muscle.)

Like I said earlier, our children can train and strengthen these three muscles under the guidance of a great coach (that would be you, their parent!). These three muscles matter more in our children’s lives than bulging biceps and six-pack abs. They will do more than look good under their t-shirt. They will help them develop emotionally and relationally healthy lives. As parents, we can help them develop each one. We can help them build them into a strong, balanced lifestyle. Read the links in this blog for some ideas on building these muscles; then, read our blogs over the next couple weeks to learn more way you can help your children build strong muscles or resilience, emotional intelligence, and optimism!