A Thinking Style That Can Help You Feel Happier

We all know that to be happier, it’s important to focus on the positives in life. For some people that comes easily. For others, it’s more of a challenge.

One of the great things about living in the times we do is that scientists now study what makes us happy and able to live our full potential. We now have much greater information and many more science-based tools than were available even a decade ago.

One of the findings from the past decade has been the difference in the thinking patterns of pessimists and optimists, in terms of what’s called their “explanatory style”.

It turns out that the explanatory style of US presidential candidates correlates with the results of presidential elections by 85% over the last century. It’s also been found that sales people who have an optimistic explanatory style do better by 88%. Huge!

Your “explanatory style” is the way you think about events that happen to you. And as you’d know, the way we think largely determines how we feel.

While we can’t control everything that goes on around us, we can control how we interpret and respond to those things.

Have a look at these two different explanatory styles and see which is more common for you…

Here’s how a pessimist views a setback or challenge:

1. Permanent – “This is going to change things forever”.

2. General – “Now it’s spoilt everything”

3. Personal – “This always happens to me”.

In contrast, here’s how an optimist will view a setback or challenge:

1. Temporary – “This will pass”. “I’ll get over it”.

2. Specific – “It’s really hard at work at the moment but everything else is going okay”.

3. Not personal – “I played a part but other factors were also involved.” Or “I’m not the first this will happen to and I won’t be the last”.

The good news is that you can change how you feel about a situation by becoming aware of your explanatory style and, if it’s pessimistic, shifting to an optimistic one. That means you take things less personally, you see them as temporary not permanent, and that they don’t really affect everything in your life.

By thinking in more optimistic ways you can minimise how often and how long you experience negative moods due to pessimistic thinking.

And the good news is that the more we practice, the easier it gets!

Action Steps

When you’re faced with a setback or challenge…

1. Notice your thinking about the setback/challenge. Is it a pessimistic or optimistic explanatory style?
2. Try to adopt the optimistic explanatory style.
3. Then see how much less negative you feel and more confident you feel!

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Adele Sinclair is a wellness coach and trainer who focuses on mental wellbeing at work. She has a background in management and experienced job burnout twice as a result of ongoing work stress. If you liked this article, you'll love Adele's coaching programs to help you with strategies for a great worklife.