The Art of Optimism

Date: 01 Dec 2015

Living in the modern world can be very challenging – with lots of responsibilities on our shoulders. The work-life balance that many of us face is something that, if left unmanaged, can affect our health and happiness. 

Optimism is an emotion we can increase and control more than we traditionally realise.   In our latest webinar Emma Kenny explores optimism as a choice and helps us to achieve a healthier mindset, whilst fostering the ability to reframe scenarios affecting our happiness and wellbeing. 

We’ve included a few key messages and you can also click here to watch Emma’s full webinar.

About Emma

Emma Kenny is a qualified and highly experienced practitioner with Psychological and Counselling qualifications, recognised by the British Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy, and the British Psychological Society. Emma is also known particularly for her work in People Watchers on BBC2 and GMTV as their resident psychologist. 

So, what is optimism?


• It’s a tendency to look on the more favourable side of events or conditions.
• It’s also a tendency to expect the most favourable outcome, and belief will prevail.
• It’s positive thinking!

Why should we be optimistic?

Optimism has many benefits…

• It fights against depression.
• It improves our overall health and recovery from illness.
• It combines with talent and desire to enable achievement. 
• It influences people to like you.
• It generates positive energy, causing good things to happen.
• It beats pessimism.

Why should we avoid pessimism – the opposite of optimism?

Pessimism can…

• Lower our immune function.
• Reduce our resilience to bounce back to certain situations.
• Lower our success and provide almost no advantages.

Explanatory Style

What is explanatory style?

Explanatory style is psychological attribute that indicates how people explain to themselves why they experience a particular event, either a positive one or a negative one. 
There are three types of explanatory styles, which can be applied to both good and bad events, and can also appear in a range of levels from high to low:

• Permanence
• Pervasiveness
• Personalisation

Recognising the different types of events which can occur can help us to avoid pessimism and view situations in a positive light. 


Permanence is the belief that the causes of events are permanent, for example: “I always forget my keys”.

The different types of permanence include:

• High, bad permanence is the belief that ‘causes of bad events are permanent’.
o This contributes to lengthy feelings of helplessness, or excessive helplessness from small setbacks.
• Low, bad permanence is the belief that ‘causes of bad events are temporary’.
o This is helpful as it can support someone in bouncing back.
• High, good permanence is the belief that ‘good events have permanent causes’.
o This is great as it allows individuals to try harder after they succeed.
• Low, good permanence is the belief that ‘good events have temporary causes’. 
o This causes individuals to give up when they succeed and see success as a fluke.


Pervasiveness is the belief that the causes of good or bad events are either universal or specific, for example: “I can’t do anything right” or “Everything I touch turns to gold”. 

The different types of pervasiveness include:

• High, bad pervasiveness is the belief that ‘bad events have universal causes’
• Low, bad pervasiveness is the belief that ‘bad events have specific causes’.
• High, good pervasiveness is the belief that ‘good events have universal causes’.
• Low, good pervasiveness is the belief that ‘good events have specific causes’.


Personalisation is the perceived locus of responsibility. When bad events happen blame ourselves (internal responsibility) or we can blame others or circumstances (external responsibility).

• Internal personalisation – Internalisation
o Of bad events (blaming ourselves) = lower self-esteem.
o Of good events (crediting ourselves) = higher self-esteem.
• External personalisation – Externalisation
o Of bad events (blaming circumstances) = preserves self-esteem.
o Of good events (crediting others) = lowers self-esteem.

Overcoming Pessimism

Overcoming pessimism can be achieved in a few simple steps:

1. Recognise pessimistic thoughts
2. Distract from or dispute pessimistic thoughts
3. Take time to be grateful


Successfully disputed beliefs are less likely to recur when the same situation presents itself again.

But how do you dispute?

1. Use perspective
Is my belief reasonable, or out of proportion?
If someone else judged me as critically as I am judging myself, would I accept their conclusion?

2. Examine the evidence

3. Find an alternative explanation

4. Challenge the implications

5. Discard the beliefs that are destructive or not useful


Be thankful for the small things
Be aware of everything that is around you
Learn the art of ‘seeing’
Take 20 minutes every day to simply be

Remember! Everything will be okay in the end. If it’s not okay, it’s not the end!