Are you a glass half-full person, or a glass half-empty person?
In an earlier Newsletter, I shared with you some research by Sonia Lyubomirsky (PhD). She suggests 50% (probably more) of our sense of wellbeing is likely to be genetic; 40% of our wellness is linked to the activities we do in life, and suggests only 10% of our wellbeing is linked to circumstances. Fair to say most of us think our circumstances mostly affect our sense of wellness. This general perception is inconsistent with Lyubomirsky’s research. In another prior Newsletter, I shared with you that having a personal faith arguably increases our sense of wellbeing. The related peer-reviewed research was presented in an academic journal article called: ‘Linking Religion and Spirituality with Psychological Well-being.’
When I thought about the 40% of actions and thoughts that we can have more control, I wondered what part does optimism play in our lives, and if beneficial, how can we help our children be more optimistic about their future? My curiosity is underpinned in a belief that God wants our children and community to thrive. Therefore, I’m driven by a desire to better understand how our children can flourish, in a way that reflects God’s unconditional love for their existence and future journey.
Do you have a glass half-full outlook, or a glass half-empty outlook?
Definition: “[To] believe that good rather than bad things will happen.” (Scheier & Carver, 1985, p. 219).
When things don’t work out as hoped, optimists instinctively align the problems with external events rather than their personal limitations, or inabilities. Pessimists typically blame themselves. Keeping in mind Sonia Lyubomirsky’s research, other academics recognise that optimism may be significantly genetic. If you are not typically a sunny-side-up person, take heart and don’t beat yourself up for not being a natural optimist. Several credible academics have looked into the influence parents (and others) have in relation to optimism in children.
Children growing up with optimistic people in their lives can develop ‘learned optimism’. Parents who provide safe, coherent environments are likely to promote learned optimism in their offspring. Optimism is modelled to children, often by making explanations for negative events that enable children to continue to feel good about themselves (Lopez et al., 2015). You may not be surprised that watching television has been observed to be a source of potential pessimism. American children aged 2 – 17 watch approximately 3.5 hours of TV per day. Children around 4 years of age who watch large amounts of television are correlated (linked) with a higher likelihood of becoming a bully. Shows aimed at 8 – 12 years olds, particularly those depicting social conflict, seem to create anxiety in their viewers. These shows increase the likelihood of pessimism.
What Learned Optimism Predicts (Lopez et al., 2015):
- Better academic performances
- Superior athletic performances
- More productive work records
- Greater satisfaction in interpersonal relationships
- More effective coping with life stressors
- Less vulnerability to depression
- Superior physical health
- Greater life satisfaction
Researchers also note there can be too much of a good thing …
- Optimists tend to keep gambling, even when loosing over and over again.
- They are more prone to making mistakes when looking at risky situations. There is the temptation to disregard realistic, foreseeable problems.
Let’s have a look at ‘optimism’ through the lens of our Christian faith
Optimistic people refuse to worry about things they cannot control. Most people tend towards optimism or pessimism, regardless of their relationship with God. Optimism is arguably different than having faith in God. As above, it can be seen as a natural personality trait with nothing to do with faith. In many ways, it’s easier to take a view of: “Don’t worry, be happy!” Sometimes alternative ‘constructs’ of God like simple ignorance, ‘karma’, ‘mother nature’, and ‘letting the universe decide’ are more easily called upon to explain random happenings. For others, ‘the power of positive thinking’ gives them a sense of confidence that they can personally influence outcomes, especially when they want something enough.
God-inspired optimism is the outcome of faith in God’s character. For example, the Bible refers to ‘hope’. It says: “May the God of hope fill you with joy and peace as you trust in Him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Romans 15:13). When we hope in God, we put our trust in His sovereign plan, over and above our own circumstances. It’s not ‘fatalism’ (i.e. just ‘letting it be’), rather it’s an understanding that there is a bigger picture reason for our existence, a purposefulness that is fully understood by a loving God.
I feel optimistic when I read the Bible and it says: “all things work together for good to those who love God and are called to His purposes” (Romans 8:28). God-inspired hope encourages us to think about our life from God’s perspective. The Bible encourages us to “cast our care upon Him” (1 Peter 5:7). I read we can “let our requests be made known to God” (Philippians 4:7). The bottom line is we have a loving heavenly father who wants to care for us. The effect this has on me is to feel increasingly optimistic that my life matters to God, and that I can trust Him. This is the same understanding I feel for all of our students.
Beyond statistical reasoning and human-inspired, empirically constructed psychological rationales, the Bible shares a summary truth, a ‘telos’ that says we can completely trust God, and experience His unconditional love. It is a love that draws us into having a deep, spiritual understanding that our life matters and that we each have a unique purpose, and consequently, every good reason to expect a great future. Regardless of your genetic pre-disposition, as a Christian, the glass is always full, and that is the message to our children.