“Learned Optimism”
Woman's Era|March 2021
A Dose of Optimism Along with the Shot(s) of Vaccine.
Sujatha Rao

A cross the world, the year 2021 is the most looked forward to year. In 2021, along with the shot(s) of vaccine, can we also inoculate ourselves with a bout of optimism? If there ever was any year in need of that, it definitely is this one.

At the same time, this job perhaps is made easier since when we look at the future, against the backdrop of 2020, even the most skeptics of us are perhaps more hopeful. But, how can we make this feeling of optimism to last for long?

In order to find an answer to this question, let’s understand what this phenomenon called ‘optimism’ is all about. The most often quoted parable in this regard happens to be the one involving a half full glass.

When you look at such a glass what do you see? Is the glass half full? Or is it half empty? Actually, what part of your body is in charge when this thing plays out? Is it the eyes or the mind? While eyes are the medium through which you see, it’s the mind which processes what you see.

So, do you often find yourself toggling between both these views? If yes, then welcome to the club. Most of us see it that way depending upon our frame of mind at that time.

But we are often told that optimists see the glass as half full while pessimists see it as half empty. So maybe we are tempted to force ourselves to always answer “it’s half full” in an attempt to feel good about ourselves.

Let’s now examine optimism a bit further by going through some scientific research that is relevant. Though there have been a number of studies that have been carried out in this regard, the most significant one is the one by Dr. Martin Seligman, considered to be the founder of positive psychology.

As part of his research on classical conditioning, Dr. Seligman would ring a bell and then give a light shock to a dog. After a few times of doing so, he would place that dog in a large crate with a low fence in the middle, which can easily be jumped over by the dog if necessary. When the light shock was administered, he expected the dog to jump over to the other side to escape. But the dog simply lay down as though he felt it was hopeless to even try.

As the second part of his experiment, he tried the same shock with dogs that had previously not been exposed to shock and found that they jumped over to the other side quickly.

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