Psychology Author Suggests that Sometimes Optimism Can Lead People Astray

In a recent article in Psychology Today psychologist and author of 15 self-help books, Susan Krauss Whitbourne, Ph.D., suggests that people with naturally optimistic personalities might occasionally find their sunny dispositions get them into trouble.

The thinking goes, she says, is that if you are a naturally optimistic person (she uses President Obama as an example), odds are, you deal with stressful situations in one of two ways; the first is by using emotional strength building techniques such as forcing yourself to look at the bright side, pushing the bad stuff out of your mind, or using calming techniques such as meditation. The other way is by assessing the situation and if possible, doing something to change things so that they are not so stressful.

The problem comes, she says, when the optimist encounters a problem that can't be solved through either method. In those cases, she says, research has shown that the optimist sort of dive bombs, unable to cope, and as such, in normal everyday situations, winds up making themselves sick. She cites a study where college students were subjected to stress and then their immune systems were tested to see how well their bodies were coping. Oddly enough, it was the so-called optimists who showed the biggest decrease, and thus became more susceptible to illness.

Most people have seen anecdotal evidence of such; someone in their life that is normally what most would call a happy-go-lucky optimist suddenly crashes under what others might see as a normal stress inducer. The difference is that the optimist continues to try to change an untenable situation, while those not of such a sunny disposition soon realize the futility of continuing to push for a solution and give up, or throw up their hands in defeat. After endlessly battling with an unsolvable problem, the optimist on the other hand, eventually caves, feeling lost, cold and defeated, leaving him vulnerable to illness and perhaps depression.

The solution, as Kraus sees it, is simple; make a list of rules for yourself, if indeed you are the optimistic kind. The rules let you know when to stop pursuing an unattainable goal, as simple as that. Of course, it's not as easy as all that, because if you are the kind of person that pursues a solution to a problem until you drop from exhaustion, then you're not likely the kind of person that will stop and pull out a list of rules you made for yourself for just such a situation.

More realistically, optimistic people maybe ought to just thank their lucky stars for their sunny dispositions, because when they are not busy trying to stamp out some horrible stress inducer, they are happier than the rest of us, so maybe it's best to just leave them be.

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