Finding Meaning in our Life Stories: Optimism, Pessimism, and Self-Esteem.

Unselfish, The Podcast. Four ways to explain good and bad events in your life stories.

How personal, permanent, and pervasive are your typical life stories of good and bad events? These explanations relate to how optimistic or pessimistic you are, and whether you let good things enhance and bad things erode your self-esteem.

If you believe you’re independent and self-defining, then you can practice choosing your explanations in ambiguous situations. Doing so could help you genuinely celebrate more of the good in life and build your resilience for facing bad situations.

Many of us seek to reconnect our personal lives with larger meaning. A fourth kind of explanation about good and bad events could help us do that, but directly challenges our common sense about human nature. Can we begin to move beyond our current fragile perspective of life as a self-told epic, always in the individualistic terms of optimism, pessimism and self-esteem?

Visit www.leadteamculture.com/lead/unselfish-podcast-show-notes-03/ for full show notes and transcript download.

Quotations and References:

[01:52] Suppose you do well at a job interview…
Scenarios adapted from and inspired by Martin Seligman’s Optimism Test in Seligman, M. E. (2006). Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life. New York: Vintage Books. (Original work published 1990). (pp. 32-39).

[03:03] “Language…never evolved from gestures… The evolution of language lies in the conversion of whole stories from mimes to a simpler system of signs and sounds which eventually completely replaced mimes and acquired the complexity it now has.”
McBride, G. (2014). Storytelling, Behavior Planning, and Language Evolution in Context. Frontiers in Psychology, 5, 1131. (page 4).

[05:48] “Language in signing or sounds soon increased the range of topics possible, gossip, and of course discussions on moving camp or dangers from territorial neighbors. Planning hunts or foraging became possible. Language itself became functional socially and also subject to natural selection.”
McBride, G. (2014). Storytelling, Behavior Planning, and Language Evolution in Context. Frontiers in Psychology, 5, 1131. (pp. 4-5).

[07:53] “individualism, [is] a view of humans as…radically self-defining and self-dependent, split off, some would say alienated, from society and the wider world.”
Richardson, F. C., & Guignon, C. B. (2008). Positive psychology and philosophy of social science. Theory & Psychology, 18(5), 605-627. (page 606).

[14:11] “There is more to perseverance than the absence of helplessness. There is more to happiness than the absence of depression, and there is more to health than the absence of illness.”
Peterson, C., & Steen, T. A. (2002). Optimistic Explanatory Style. In C. R. Snyder, & S. J. Lopez (Ed.), Handbook of Positive Psychology (pp. 244-256). New York: Oxford University Press. (page 252).

[21:21] Ask Americans if they’re optimists…
Statista. (2012). Generation X: Are You Optimistic or Pessimistic About Your Future? Retrieved from Statista – The portal for statistics:  www.statista.com/statistics/298681/united-states-generation-x-optimistic-pessimistic-future/
Statista. (2013). Do You Consider Yourself an Optimist or a Pessimist? Retrieved from Statista – The portal for statistics: www.statista.com/statistics/262675/survey-on-optimism-or-pessimism/

[22:13] In a series of studies involving European-American and Japanese volunteers…
Chang, E. C., & Asakawa, K. (2003). Cultural Variations on Optimistic and Pessimistic Bias for Self Versus a Sibling: Is There Evidence for Self-Enhancement in the West and for Self-Criticism in the East When the Referent Group is Specified? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 83(4), 569-581.
Chang, E. C., Asakawa, K., & Sanna, L. J. (2001). Cultural Variations in Optimistic and Pessimistic Bias: Do Easterners Really Expect the Worst and Westerners Really Expect the Best When Predicting Future Life Events? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 81(3), 476-491.
Kashdan, T., & Biswas-Diener, R. (2014). The Upside of Your Dark Side: Why Being Your Whole Self – Not Just Your “Good” Self – Drives Success and Fulfillment. New York: Hudson Street Press. Page 193.

[22:29] Eurobarometer survey results, for the 20 years to mid-2015…
Roser, M., & Nagdy, M. (2016). Optimism & Pessimism. Retrieved from OurWorldInData.org: www.ourworldindata.org/optimism-pessimism/

[23:44] One study suggested we may stigmatize people that are biased towards pessimism…
Helweg-Larsen, M., Sadeghian, P., & Webb, M. S. (2002). The Stigma of Being Pessimistically Biased. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 21(1), 92-107.

[24:12] 70% of us think we are above average drivers…
Roy, M. M., & Liersch, M. J. (2013). I Am a Better Driver than You Think: Examining Self‐Enhancement for Driving Ability. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 43(8), 1648-1659.

[25:30] I’ve conducted my own quick analysis of statistics provided with Optimism Test results on the Authentic Happiness website…
Positive Psychology Center. (2017). About Us. Retrieved from Authentic Happiness: www.authentichappiness.sas.upenn.edu/content/about-us

[27:42] “…the individual is necessarily only a fraction and distortion of the total image of man… From his group he has derived his techniques of life, the language in which he thinks, the ideas on which he thrives… If he presumes to cut himself off, either in deed or in thought and feeling, he only breaks connection with the sources of his existence.”
Campbell, J. (1949). The Hero with a Thousand Faces (1968, 2nd ed.). Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press. (pp. 382-383).

[29:36] “Full circle, from the tomb of the womb to the womb of the tomb, we come: an ambiguous, enigmatical incursion into the world of solid matter… And, looking back at what had promised to be our unique, unpredictable, and dangerous adventure, all we find in the end is such a series of standard metamorphoses as men and women have undergone in every quarter of the world, in all recorded centuries, and under every odd disguise of civilization.”
Campbell, J. (1949). The Hero with a Thousand Faces (1968, 2nd ed.). Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press. (pp. 12-13).

[30:49] “The tribal ceremonies of birth, initiation, marriage, burial, installation, and so forth, serve to translate the individual’s life-crises and life-deeds into classic, impersonal forms… The whole society becomes visible to itself as an imperishable living unit. Generations of individuals pass, like anonymous cells from a living body; but the sustaining, timeless form remains.”
Campbell, J. (1949). The Hero with a Thousand Faces (1968, 2nd ed.). Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press. (page 383).

[32:44] “If a policeman says, ‘Stop where you are.’…you become a suspect. If a salesperson says, ‘Can I help you?’…you become a customer… Would we be any of these without such callings?”
Gergen, K. J. (2009). Relational Being: Beyond Self and Community. New York: Oxford University Press. (page 38).

[33:18] “The empty self is soothed and made cohesive by becoming ‘filled up’ with food, consumer products, and celebrities… Because emptiness is, in part, an absence of communal forms and beliefs, individuals in the [post-world war II] era are thus particularly vulnerable to influence from cultural forms such as advertising…”
Cushman, P. (1990). Why the Self is Empty: Toward a Historically Situated Psychology. American Psychologist, 45(5), 599-611. (pages 599 and 605).

For additional references used in this episode, please refer to “Book One: An Unselfish Perspective” www.leadteamculture.com/books/

Disclaimer, copyright, and image and music credits:

While this document, and the recorded audio podcast episode it describes, includes published peer-reviewed psychological research and therapy papers, it is not therapy and no therapeutic benefits are offered or implied. If you have concerns about your physical or psychological health, please seek medical advice. If you have concerns about the health of your most important relationships, please seek professional relationship counselling services.

This document, and the recorded audio podcast episode it describes are © 2018, James David Thomas.

The image for this episode was modified by the author in Adobe Illustrator CC using Adobe Stock #116463391 © ojogabonitoo under a standard license. Visit www.stock.adobe.com/

Music used in this episode was mixed by the author in Adobe Audition CC 2018 from a public domain recording of the English Suite no. 2 by Johann Sebastian Bach, performed by Syuzanna Kaszo. The recording was sourced from www.musopen.org