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Pessimism vs optimism Explanatory styles and their spectrum

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What differentiates humans from animals is our cognitive ability to question who and what we are. Because of cognitive abilities such as sequence learning, tangible thoughts, language capacity, and planning, humans dating back to the ancient Greeks have been trying to answer the question of what our role in life is. اضافة اعلان

Beyond questioning our role, our cognitive abilities have introduced us to questions on the spectrum of existence, from questions about whether we are real to questions about morality, which many philosophers have sought to answer. 

Even if you do not find yourself delving into those questions or their answers, throughout your life, you have developed your own philosophy to help you navigate life. 

This philosophy may be shared amongst a community through religion or science, or it could be entirely unique and based on your personal experience. 

Regardless of where your life philosophy originated, your perspective can generally be categorized into different explanatory styles, which are essentially just the different ways people perceive reality.

What are explanatory styles?

Gregory Buchanan and Martin Seligman defined explanatory style as “our tendency to offer similar explanations for different events.” Everyone has some semblance of internal dialogue that helps them rationalize the world around them. 

We use our explanatory style to rationalize and explain events and experiences in our lives. It is also used to help us process, attach meaning, and assess threats or challenges in our lives. As a result, our explanatory style is one part self-talk and another part self-perception, which can affect our levels of stress in different ways. 

To understand explanatory style, it helps to understand the parameters that govern it. There are three parameters that people use to explain situations to themselves. 

The first parameter is internality which is the rationalization of who is to blame or what is the cause of the event. Personalization is one part of internality, which is believing that you are to blame for a situation. On the other hand, internality also includes external rationalization, meaning that you believe someone or something other than yourself is the cause. 

Personalization or internal rationalization may cause higher levels of stress, and external rationalization may cause higher levels of frustration. 
The second parameter is globality or pervasiveness, which is the belief that whenever something bad happens, we cannot help but feel as though more bad things will happen. 

Globality is rationalized in two different ways; the first is that the outcome can be attributed to a global factor, which is consistent regardless of context. The second being specific, meaning it is only relevant in specific contexts or settings. 

Regardless of which is believed, this can make failures challenging to overcome, although specific thinking is thought to help with overcoming adversity. 

The final parameter is stability or permanence. This parameter may have the most significant impact on our mental state based on our perception of situations and life as a whole. 

Stability is the rationalization of whether situations are considered stable, meaning the factors involved are fixed and will persist indefinitely, or unstable, meaning that the factors are ever-changing.

What are pessimism and optimism?

Pessimism and optimism are two common and dichotomous explanatory styles. These perspectives on life are often misunderstood and surrounded by stigma, particularly pessimism. 

The most common metaphor used to describe these two explanatory styles is the glass with water metaphor, which raises the question of If you have a glass in front of you, half of it filled with water and the other half empty, how would you describe it? Would it be half-full or half-empty? 

Although it is not a proper form of measurement on which style you have, generally speaking, those who describe the glass as half full are viewed as optimists, whereas those who describe the glass as half empty are considered pessimists.

More accurately, pessimism and optimism view the expectation of outcome when faced with an event of unknown emotional impact. Thus, a pessimist will expect a disadvantageous or negative outcome, whereas an optimist will expect an advantageous or positive outcome. 

Whether it is a positive or negative event that has taken place, individuals will use explanatory styles to rationalize it. For example, a good or positive event in pessimists would be perceived as external, specific, and unstable. 

For example, a pessimist getting a good mark on an exam would attribute it to getting easy questions (external), being able to focus although uncharacteristic of them (unstable), and only happened because of dumb luck (specific). Conversely, an adverse event is viewed as internal, global, and stable. 

What it means is that if the same person were to fail an exam, they would say that it is because they are stupid (internal), they never do well on tests (stable), and they will never be good at test-taking (global). 

Optimism, on the other hand, thinks oppositely to pessimism. Good events are seen as internal, global, and stable, whereas bad events are external, specific, and unstable.

Which is better?

In short, neither is better or worse because explanatory styles exist on a spectrum, optimism and pessimism being the extremes. Even if someone has a tendency for one over the other, there typically is a healthy mix to offset the negatives of each.

In some, this is not always the case. Still, you can actively work to change that or allow it to change passively with time and experience. Understanding the disadvantages of the extremes may help you explore your own explanatory style.

Pessimism is generally regarded as a negative style. An individual on this extreme will tend to have a more cynical outlook on life and can hurt self-esteem. Additionally, pessimism has a more significant association with depression and anxiety, whereas optimism is associated with reduced symptoms of depression and anxiety. 

Generally speaking, a true pessimist is less likely to feel resilient when dealing with adverse events due to feeling a lack of control. On the other hand, a true optimist may find difficulty in understanding and rationalizing adverse events or properly gauging their expectations, leading to disappointment. As a result, over time, they may find it challenging to cope with certain situations.

How to improve or change your mindset

Your mindset will naturally change over time. As you go through life, you will experience new events that will ultimately change you for the better or worse. These experiences will help you see that life is not as binary as pessimism or optimism. 

Even if you are young and inexperienced, you can begin the process early with self-help guides online. 

If you feel that your explanatory style has a highly negative impact on your overall well-being, Jordan is home to highly qualified therapists and psychologists who can assist you in changing your explanatory style by assessing your internal dialogue and developing strategies to help with coping and evolving.

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