I have had my share of those not-so-exciting experiences you may have heard of about applying for US visa. I did get approved for 10 years but the ordeal I had to go through was painful for me.
The Consul questioned why there was no stamp on my passport from my previous trip in Australia (because they no longer do that), I was given a note that my application was refused but, they didn’t return my passport yet because they need to investigate further. I went through the ordeal of waiting there for hours, filled out another form and had taken an oath to swear that I was telling the truth.
Rolling back up to the days before the interview, I remember half-believing that I will never get approved and that I will just have to go through the application because my company had invested in me. However, I also thought it would be a huge miss not to go to that very important conference and that I should think positively so I can attract positive energy too, so I did. I couldn’t find a reason in my head why I’d be refused really, but because people say it’s pretty hard to get approved. I think the pessimism side of my mind at that time led me not to exert enough effort during the interview. My responses were short and flat. I had resigned that I won’t get approved like many others.
Have you met someone who is predominantly pessimistic? I am pleased to meet you too… I actually swing between optimism and pessimism, depending on the amount of information I have on the matter.
So what’s inside the brain of a predominantly pessimistic mind? Is our outlook in life, whether positively or negatively charged, affecting the morphology or size of our brains? In the study, Psychology Today – Optimism and Anxiety Change the Structure of Your Brain, the gray matter volume in the orbitofrontal cortex (OFC) of the brain shrank, in some young adults’ brain in Japan, after they experienced the earthquake and tsunami in 2011. The study highlighted that the size of your OFC depend on whether we are optimistic or mostly prone to anxiety. The larger the OFC, the lesser chance of anxiety.
Sad or traumatic experiences can often lead to pessimism. OFC is the very seat where intellectual information and emotion (from amygdala) are integrated leading to the emotion we feel and the behavior we show. Larger volume of gray matter in this area of the brain leads to a more positive outlook on life and are optimistic.
Is pessimism genetic? In another recent study conducted by Todd et. al., published in Journal of Psychological Science revealed that the gene deletion (mutation, certain amino acids missing) ADRA2B can be blamed for our pessimism. Their experiment revealed that those who carried the ADRA2B deletion react more to negative pictures and words while those who don’t carry respond more to positive visuals and words. The deletion may have caused by traumatic experience.
There have been studies that proved how pessimism affects one’s health. How the feeling of fear or anxiety increases cortisol in which may lead to many known stress-induced diseases. However, it can also be our survival instinct kicking in. There are some pessimists who always begin with low expectations while they see a bleak future ahead, a coping mechanism devised to survive.
Optimistic people on the other hand (as long as realists and not dillusional), have more positive disposition, got more friends as they are usually fun to be with and are generally happy and grateful about what they have. It’s also known that positive outlook on life is one of the formula for longevity of life.
With the hopeful mindset, optimists are usually confident so they grab any opportunities within reach. However, some optimists are complacent or over confident and are more prone to misses and failures. I think it is still best to anticipate the risks, do something to overcome it and keep the positive outlook that everything will be great.
Can you still train your brain to be more optimistic? As humans, we have the ability to change, adapt and thrive. We have the ability to unlearn what is no longer relevant and learn anything new that is specifically critical to our survival. Brain’s capability to progress from learning simplex to complex ideas by developing new nerve networks is what neuroscientist called Neuroplasticity.
It is like learning how to play a song you love in the piano. At first you will struggle but with practice, you will learn it later on. It only takes hours of practice and perseverance.
What works for people I know, who have mastered this art, is to learn to sift through information and just choose the ones that will be beneficial. Learn to avoid and ignore people with ‘chronic’ pessimism – who always have something negative to say and shut down the light of everyone else.
Happiness is contagious. By surrounding ourselves with optimistic people, we can also become optimistic. I am lucky to have found few people in my circle who are always grateful and hopeful about almost everything. They make tough times easy to go through.
Some of my favorite optimistic people are the authors of my favorite self-help books. It is like listening to someone who can be brutally honest about what you’ve been doing wrong but tells you that there is always hope, and helps you fix it. Reading also trains me to shut up, shun self-defense and just absorb information.