The Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine, 3rd Ed.

APPENDIX A

ARE YOU AN OPTIMIST?

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What distinguishes an optimist from a pessimist is the way in which they explain both good and bad events. Dr. Martin Seligman has developed a simple test to determine your level of optimism (see Learned Optimism, Knopf, 1981). Take as much time as you need. There are no right or wrong answers. It is important that you take the test before you read the interpretation. Read the description of each situation and vividly imagine it happening to you. Choose the response that most applies to you by circling either A or B. Ignore the letter and number codes for now; they will be explained later.

1.

The project you are in charge of is a great success. PsG

PsG

 

A. I kept a close watch over everyone’s work.

1

 

B. Everyone devoted a lot of time and energy to it.

0

2.

You and your spouse (boyfriend/girlfriend) make up after a fight.

PmG

 

A. I forgave him/her.

0

 

B. I’m usually forgiving.

1

3.

You get lost driving to a friend’s house.

PsB

 

A. I missed a turn.

1

 

B. My friend gave me bad directions.

0

4.

Your spouse (boyfriend/girlfriend) surprises you with a gift.

PsG

 

A. He/she just got a raise at work.

0

 

B. I took him/her out to a special dinner the night before.

1

5.

You forget your spouse’s (boyfriend’s/girlfriend’s) birthday.

PmB

 

A. I’m not good at remembering birthdays.

1

 

B. I was preoccupied with other things.

0

6.

You get a flower from a secret admirer.

PvG

 

A. I am attractive to him/her.

0

 

B. I am a popular person.

1

7.

You run for a community office position and you win.

PvG

 

A. I devoted a lot of time and energy to campaigning.

 
 

B. I work very hard at everything I do.

1

8.

You miss an important engagement.

PvB

 

A. Sometimes my memory fails me.

1

 

B. I sometimes forget to check my appointment book.

0

9.

You run for a community office position and you lose.

PsB

 

A. I didn’t campaign hard enough.

1

 

B. The person who won knew more people.

0

10.

You host a successful dinner.

PmG

 

A. I was particularly charming that night.

0

 

B. I am a good host.

1

11.

You stop a crime by calling the police.

PsG

 

A. A strange noise caught my attention.

0

 

B. I was alert that day.

1

12.

You were extremely healthy all year.

PsG

 

A. Few people around me were sick, so I wasn’t exposed.

0

 

B. I made sure I ate well and got enough rest.

1

13.

You owe the library ten dollars for an overdue book.

PmB

 

A. When I am really involved in what I am reading, I often forget when it’s due.

1

 

B. I was so involved in writing the report that I forgot to return the book.

0

14.

Your stocks make you a lot of money.

PmG

 

A. My broker decided to take on something new.

0

 

B. My broker is a top-notch investor.

1

15.

You win an athletic contest.

PmG

 

A. I was feeling unbeatable.

0

 

B. I train hard.

1

16.

You fail an important examination.

PsB

 

A. I wasn’t as smart as the other people taking the exam.

1

 

B. I didn’t prepare for it well.

0

17.

You prepared a special meal for a friend and he/she barely touched the food.

PvB

 

A. I wasn’t a good cook.

1

 

B. I made the meal in a rush.

0

18.

You lose a sporting event for which you have been training for a long time.

PvB

 

A. I’m not very athletic.

1

 

B. I’m not good at that sport.

0

19.

Your car runs out of gas on a dark street late at night.

PsB

 

A. I didn’t check to see how much gas was in the tank.

1

 

B. The gas gauge was broken.

0

20.

ou lose your temper with a friend.

PmB

 

A. He/she is always nagging me.

1

 

B. He/she was in a hostile mood.

0

21.

You are penalized for not returning your income tax forms on time.

PmB

 

A. I always put off doing my taxes.

1

 

B. I was lazy about getting my taxes done this year.

0

22.

You ask a person out on a date and he/she says no.

PvB

 

A. I was a wreck that day.

1

 

B. I got tongue-tied when I asked him/he on the date.

0

23.

A game-show host picks you out of the audience to participate in the show.

PsG

 

A. I was sitting in the right seat.

0

 

B. I looked the most enthusiastic.

1

24.

You are frequently asked to dance at a party.

PmG

 

A. I am outgoing at parties.

1

 

B. I was in perfect form that night.

0

25.

You buy your spouse (boyfriend/girlfriend) a gift he/she doesn’t like.

PsB

 

A. I don’t put enough thought into things like that.

1

 

B. He/she has very picky tastes.

0

26.

You do exceptionally well in a job interview.

PmG

 

A. I felt extremely confident during the interview.

0

 

B. I interview well.

1

27.

You tell a joke and everyone laughs.

PsG

 

A. The joke was funny.

0

 

B. My timing was perfect.

1

28.

Your boss gives you too little time in which to finish a project, but you get it finished anyway.

PvG

 

A. I am good at my job.

0

 

B. I am an efficient person.

1

29.

You’ve been feeling run-down lately.

PmB

 

A. I never get a chance to relax.

1

 

B. I was exceptionally busy this week.

0

30.

You ask someone to dance and he/she says no.

PsB

 

A. I am not a good enough dancer.

1

 

B. He/she doesn’t like to dance.

0

31.

You save a person from choking to death.

PvG

 

A. I know a technique to stop someone from choking.

0

 

B. I know what to do in crisis situations.

1

32.

Your romantic partner wants to cool things off for a while.

PvB

 

A. I’m too self-centered.

1

 

B. I don’t spend enough time with him/her.

0

33.

A friend says something that hurts your feelings.

PmB

 

A. She always blurts things out without thinking of others.

1

 

B. My friend was in a bad mood and took it out on me.

0

34.

Your employer comes to you for advice.

PvG

 

A. I am an expert in the area about which I was asked.

0

 

B. I’m good at giving useful advice.

1

35.

A friend thanks you for helping him/her get through a bad time.

PvG

 

A. I enjoy helping him/her through tough times.

0

 

B. I care about people.

1

36.

You have a wonderful time at a party.

PsG

 

A. Everyone was friendly.

0

 

B. I was friendly.

1

37.

Your doctor tells you that you are in good physical shape.

PvG

 

A. I make sure I exercise frequently.

0

 

B. I am very health-conscious.

1

38.

Your spouse (boyfriend/girlfriend) takes you away for a romantic weekend.

PmG

 

A. He/she needed to get away for a few days.

0

 

B. He/she likes to explore new areas.

1

39.

Your doctor tells you that you eat too much sugar.

PsB

 

A. I don’t pay much attention to my diet.

1

 

B. You can’t avoid sugar, it’s in everything.

0

40.

You are asked to head an important project.

PmG

 

A. I just successfully completed a similar project.

0

 

B. I am a good supervisor.

1

41.

You and your spouse (boyfriend/girlfriend) have been fighting a great deal.

PsB

 

A. I have been feeling cranky and pressured lately.

1

 

B. He/she has been hostile lately.

0

42.

You fall down a great deal while skiing.

PmB

 

A. Skiing is difficult.

1

 

B. The trails were icy.

0

43.

You win a prestigious award.

PvG

 

A. I solved an important problem.

0

 

B. I was the best employee.

1

44.

Your stocks are at an all-time low.

PvB

 

A. I didn’t know much about the business climate at the time.

1

 

B. I made a poor choice of stocks.

0

45.

You win the lottery.

PsG

 

A. It was pure chance.

0

 

B. I picked the right numbers.

1

46.

You gain weight over the holidays and you can’t lose it.

PmB

 

A. Diets don’t work in the long run.

1

 

B. The diet I tried didn’t work.

0

47.

You are in the hospital and few people come to visit.

PsB

 

A. I’m irritable when I am sick.

1

 

B. My friends are negligent about things like that.

0

48.

They won’t honor your credit card at a store.

PvB

 

A. I sometimes overestimate how much money I have.

1

 

B. I sometimes forget to pay my credit card bill.

0

 

Scoring Key

 

PmB______

 

PmG______

PvB ______

 

PvG______

 

HoB ______

 

PsB ______

 

PsG______

Total B______

 

Total G ______

 

G–B ______

 

Interpreting Your Test Results

The test results will give you a clue as to your explanatory style. In other words, the results will tell you about the way in which you explain things to yourself. It tells you your habit of thought. Again, remember that there are no right or wrong answers.

There are three crucial dimensions to your explanatory style: permanence, pervasiveness, and personalization. Each dimension, plus a couple of others, will be scored from your test.

Permanence. When pessimists are faced with challenges or bad events, they view the events as being permanent. In contrast, people who are optimists tend to view the challenges or bad events as temporary. Here are some statements that reflect the subtle differences:

PERMANENT (PESSIMISTIC)

TEMPORARY (OPTIMISTIC)

“My boss is always a jerk.”

“My boss is in a bad mood today.”

“You never listen.”

“You are not listening.”

“This bad luck will never stop.”

“My luck has got to turn.”

To determine how you view bad events, look at the eight items coded PmB (for Permanent Bad): 5, 13, 20, 21, 29, 33, 42, and 46. Each one with a “0” after it is optimistic; each one followed by a “1” is pessimistic. Total the numbers at the right-hand margin of the questions coded PmB, and write the total on the PmB line on the scoring key.

If you totaled 0 or 1, you are very optimistic on this dimension; 2 or 3 is a moderately optimistic score; 4 is average; 5 or 6 is quite pessimistic; and 7 or 8 is extremely pessimistic.

Now let’s take a look at the difference in explanatory style between pessimists and optimists when there is a positive event in their lives. It’s just the opposite of what happened with a bad event. Pessimists view positive events as temporary, while optimists view them as permanent. Here again are some subtle differences in how pessimists and optimists might communicate their good fortune:

TEMPORARY (PESSIMISTIC)

PERMANENT (OPTIMISTIC)

“It’s my lucky day.”

“I am always lucky.”

“My opponent was off today.”

“I am getting better every day.”

“I tried hard today.”

“I always give my best.”

Now total all the questions coded PmG (for Permanent Good): 2, 10, 14, 15, 24, 26, 38, and 40. Write the total on the line in the scoring key marked PmG.

If you totaled 7 or 8, you are very optimistic on this dimension; 6 is a moderately optimistic score; 4 or 5 is average; 3 is pessimistic; and 0, 1, or 2 is extremely pessimistic.

Are you starting to see a pattern? If you are scoring as a pessimist, you may want to learn how to be more optimistic. Your anxiety may be due to your belief that bad things are always going to happen, while good things are only a fluke.

Pervasiveness. Pervasiveness refers to the tendency to describe things in universals (everyone, always, never, etc.) vs. specifics (a specific individual, a specific time, etc.). Pessimists tend to describe things in universals, while optimists describe things in specifics.

UNIVERSAL (PESSIMISTIC)

SPECIFIC (OPTIMISTIC)

“All lawyers are jerks.”

“My attorney was a jerk.”

“Instruction manuals are worthless.”

“This instruction manual is worthless.”

“He is repulsive.”

“He is repulsive to me.”

Total your score for the questions coded PvB (for Pervasive Bad): 8, 17, 18, 22, 32, 44, and 48. Write the total on the PvB line.

If you totaled 0 or 1, you are very optimistic on this dimension; 2 or 3 is a moderately optimistic score; 4 is average; 5 or 6 is quite pessimistic; and 7 or 8 is extremely pessimistic.

Now let’s look at the level of pervasiveness of good events. Optimists tend to view good events as universal, while pessimists view them as specific. Again, it’s just the opposite of how each views a bad event.

Total your score for the questions coded PvG (for Pervasive Good): 6, 7, 28, 31, 34, 35, 37, and 43. And write the total on the line labeled PvG.

If you totaled 7 or 8, you are very optimistic on this dimension; 6 is a moderately optimistic score; 4 or 5 is average; 3 is pessimistic; and 0, 1, or 2 is extremely pessimistic.

Hope. Our level of hope or hopelessness is determined by our combined level of permanence and pervasiveness. Your level of hope may be the most significant score for this test. Take your PvB and add it to your PmB score. This is your hope score.

If it is 0, 1, or 2, you are extraordinarily hopeful; 3, 4, 5, or 6 is a moderately hopeful score; 7 or 8 is average; 9, 10, or 11 is moderately hopeless; and 12, 13, 14, 15, or 16 is severely hopeless.

People who make permanent and universal explanations for their troubles tend to suffer from stress, anxiety, and depression; they tend to collapse when things go wrong. According to Dr. Seligman, no other score is as important as your hope score.

Personalization. The final aspect of explanatory style is personalization. When bad things happen, either we can blame ourselves (internalize) and lower our self-esteem as a consequence, or we can blame things beyond our control (externalize). Although it may not be right to deny personal responsibility, people who tend to externalize blame in relation to bad events have higher self-esteem and are more optimistic.

Total your score for the questions coded PsB (for Personalization Bad): 3, 9, 16, 19, 25, 30, 39, 41, and 47.

A score of 0 or 1 indicates very high self-esteem and optimism; 2 or 3 indicates moderate self-esteem; 4 is average; 5 or 6 indicates moderately low self-esteem; and 7 or 8 indicates very low self-esteem.

Now let’s take a look at personalization and good events. Again, just the exact opposite occurs compared with bad events. When good things happen, the person with high self-esteem internalizes while the person with low self-esteem externalizes.

Total your score for those questions coded PsG (for Personalization Good): 1, 4, 11, 12, 23, 27, 36, and 45. Write your score on the line marked PsG on your scoring key.

If you totaled 7 or 8, you are very optimistic on this dimension; 6 is a moderately optimistic score; 4 or 5 is average; 3 is pessimistic; and 0, 1, or 2 is extremely pessimistic.

Your Overall Scores. To compute your overall scores, first add the three B’s (PmB + PvB + PsB). This is your B (bad event) score. Do the same for all of the G’s (PmG + PvG + PsG). This is your G score. Subtract B from G; this is your overall score.

If your B score is from 3 to 6, you are marvelously optimistic when bad events occur; 10 or 11 is average; 12 to 14 is pessimistic; anything above 14 is extremely pessimistic.

If your G score is 19 or above, you think about good events extremely optimistically; 14 to 16 is average; 11 to 13 indicates pessimism; and a score of 10 or less indicates great pessimism.

If your overall score (G minus B) is above 8, you are very optimistic across the board; if it’s from 6 to 8, you are moderately optimistic; 3 to 5 is average; 1 or 2 is pessimistic; and a score of 0 or below is very pessimistic.