Category Archives: Hope and optimism

Happiness Experiment No 30: Draw your future

“The capacity for hope is the most significant fact of life. It provides human beings with a sense of destination, and the energy to get started.” Norman Cousins

A very interesting theory I have discovered in the science of positive psychology is hope theory.  C.R. Snyder spent many years researching the theory of hope and its benefits to well-being. Hope is not just wishful thinking or optimisim in the way we say “I hope I will win the lottery.” Hope is a belief that we can change the future for the better, or reach our desired goals. Hope keeps us moving forward when the going gets tough, and helps us to “get back on the horse” when we fall off.  According to Snyder’s theory, hopeful thinking is made up of 3 key elements:

  1. Goals – thinking in a goal-oriented way.
  2. Pathways – finding different ways to achieve your goals.
  3. Agency – believing that you can instigate change.

Snyder found that hopeful

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Is your nest half empty or half full?


Like many parents who have just experienced the departure of their first child to university, there is much to come to terms with and it is a bittersweet moment.  There is the empty bedroom once the scene of frantic, caffeine fuelled creativity working towards a school submission deadline and of alcohol fuelled teenage parties and sleepovers. There is the sad doe-eyed dog bemused at the mountain of belongings which were crammed in to a small car in preparation for departure and left wondering why she was not being invited on the adventure.  There is the gleeful remaining sibling whose need for “Lebensraum” makes him eye the empty room greedily as a future venue for larger late night parties and sleepover opportunities. Then there is us, the stunned parents who are questioning how 19 years can go by so quickly and how there is still so much to be said and shared together.  This is the half empty story.

The have full story recognises… Read the rest...

Is optimism all it’s made out to be?

As a die-hard optimist, although I think of myself as a realistic rather than idealistic one, I am always interested to hear author people’s views on optimism.  This excellent Fast Company article by Buffer co-founder Leo Widrich takes a look at how optimism has played a role in his business success.



General Stockdale was held captive for eight years during the Vietnam War. After being tortured 22 times and losing many friends in prison, he eventually made it out alive.

A few decades later, Jim Collins, author of the famous book Good to Great interviewed Stockdale about his experiences as a prisoner of war. Stockdale gave lots of insightful answers about how he managed to survive torture, starvation, and other horrible conditions.

One line that stuck with me

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Older people are happier

Want to live to a ripe old age?  Having a positive outlook on life maybe the key to doing just that. The article below from CBS News looks at how optimism can lead to longevity.  The TEDxWomen talk below by psychologist Laura Carstensen shows that not only does being optimistic make you live longer, but research shows that you also become happier and more content as you get older and are likely to have a more positive outlook on the world.  Living to an old age does not mean that your quality of life has to diminish, on the contrary it is likely to increase.  Enjoy the article and the video and let me know what you think.


Researchers discover optimism may lead to longevity

The secret to a long life may be something as simple as a sunny disposition.

In a study published in the journal Ageing on May 21, researchers surveyed people who were over the age of 95 and found that most of them had positive personality traits, making them upbeat and relaxed

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Self help: forget positive thinking, try positive action

Self help: forget positive thinking, try positive action

The self-help industry is mired in ideas about positive thinking that are at best ineffective and at worst destructive. If you want to be more confident or successful, says Richard Wiseman, the best thing to do is act the part.

self-help graphic

For years self-help gurus have preached the same simple mantra: if you want to improve your life then you need to change how you think. Force yourself to have positive thoughts and you will become happier. Visualise your dream self and you will enjoy increased success. Think like a millionaire and you will magically grow rich. In principle, this idea sounds perfectly reasonable. However, in practice it often proves ineffective.


Rip It Up: The radically new approach to changing your life: The Simple Idea That Changes Everything
  1. Tell us what you think: 

Take visualisation. Hundreds of self-improvement books encourage readers to close their eyes and imagine

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The Amazingly Positive Life of Michael J. Fox.

“People talk about me being a paragon of optimism and hope and all that stuff. I have a really blessed life, I have an amazing life.” Michael J. Fox

In this feature for ABC News published on 18th June 2012, Russell Goldman looks at the actor Michael J. Fox who I mentioned in a previous post as being a poster boy for optimism.   Read the article and watch his interview with ABC’s news anchor Diane Sawyer who featured him as her “Person of the Week” in her Friday night World News programme.

Michael J. Fox Looks Past Stem Cells in Search For Parkinson’s Cure

Michael J. Fox, whose turn from Parkinson’s disease patient to scientific crusader made him one of the country’s most visible advocates for stem cell research, now believes the controversial therapy may not ultimately yield a cure for his disease, he told ABC’s Diane Sawyer in an exclusive interview.

There have been “problems along the way,” Fox said of stem cell studies,

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Happiness is a glass half empty

Following on from yesterday’s post about the Oliver Burkeman event organised by Action for Happiness, today’s Guardian features a longer article covering some of the theories in his new book The Antidote.

Happiness is a glass half empty

Be positive, look on the bright side, stay focused on success: so goes our modern mantra. But perhaps the true path to contentment is to learn to be a loser


Article by

Half-empty glass

Are we maybe just looking for happiness in the wrong way? Photograph: Aaron Tilley for the Guardian

In an unremarkable business park outside the city of Ann Arbor, in Michigan, stands a poignant memorial to humanity’s shattered dreams. It doesn’t look like that from the outside, though. Even when you get inside – which members of the public rarely do – it takes a few moments for your eyes to adjust to what you’re seeing. It appears to be a vast and haphazardly

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The pessimism bias – Smile or Die

Yesterday’s blog post looked at the theory of the optimism bias.  In today’s blog post we look at the book “Smile or Die” by Barbara Ehrenreich which argues the case against aiming for a perpetual state of positivity.  Jenni Murray, who like Barbara Ehrenreich has also been diagnosed with breast cancer, is in favour of Ehrenreich’s quest for realism rather than the pursuit of a permanent state of happiness.  This video featuring Barbara Ehrenreich explains the logic behind her views. By watching the video and reading Jenni Murray’s article you will be better equipped to decide which viewpoint you agree with.  Should we aim to be optimistic, pessimistic or realistic or a combination of all three?  The decision is yours.

Smile or Die: How Positive Thinking Fooled America and the World by Barbara Ehrenreich

Jenni Murray salutes a long-overdue demolition of the suggestion that positive thinking

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The Optimism Bias

I discovered Tali Sharot at this year’s TEDx Observer event in London and was struck by the importance of her fascinating studies.  I immediately purchased her book “The Optimism Bias” which I highly recommend.  If you do not have time to read the whole book and would like to read an extract take a look at this article from TIME magazine. You can also watch Tali Sharot’s TED talk in this video. Enjoy!

We like to think of ourselves as rational creatures. We watch our backs, weigh the odds, pack an umbrella. But both neuroscience and social science suggest that we are more optimistic than realistic. On average, we expect things to turn out better than they wind up being. People hugely underestimate their chances of getting divorced, losing their job or being diagnosed with cancer; expect their children to be extraordinarily gifted; envision themselves achieving more than their peers; and overestimate their likely life… Read the rest...