The following questions, developed by psychologist Martin Seligman, Ph.D., can give you an insight into how you see the world – in a reasonably positive light, or otherwise.
This quiz and commentary are adapted from the Attributional Style questionnaire in his book Learned Optimism.
Read the description of each situation and vividly imagine it happening to you. Perhaps neither response will seem to fit; go ahead anyway and circle one, choosing the cause that is likelier to apply to you. Don’t choose what you think you should say, or what you think would sound good to other people. Be yourself.
Ignore the letter and number codes for now
- You forget your boyfriend’s birthday. (PmB)
- I’m not good at remembering birthdays. (1)
- I was preoccupied with other things. (0)
- You miss an important engagement. (PvB)
- Sometimes my memory fails me. (1)
- I sometimes forget to check my appointment book. (0)
- You owe the library a fine for an overdue book. (PmB)
- I was so involved in writing the report that I forgot to return the book. (0)
- When I am really involved in what I am reading, I often forget when the book’s overdue. (1)
- You fail an important examination. (PvB)
- I didn’t prepare for it well. (0)
- I wasn’t as smart as the other people taking the exam. (1)
- You cook a special meal for a friend and he/she barely touches the food. (PvB)
- I wasn’t a good cook. (1)
- I made the meal in a rush. (0)
- You lose a sporting event for which you have been training for a long time.
- I’m not very athletic. (1)
- I’m not good at that sport. (0)
- You lose your temper with a friend. (PmB)
- He/she is always nagging me. (1)
- He/she was in a hostile mood. (0)
- You are penalized for not returning your income-tax forms on time. (PmB)
- I was lazy about getting my taxes done this year. (0)
- I always put off doing my taxes. (1)
- You ask a person out on a date and he/she says no. (PvB)
- I was wreck that day. (1)
- I got tongue-tied when I asked him/her on the date. (0)
- You’ve been feeling run-down lately. (PmB)
- I never get a chance to relax. (1)
- I was exceptionally busy this week. (0)
- Your romantic partner wants to cool things off for a while.
- I don’t spend enough time with him/her. (0)
- I’m too self-centered. (1)
- A friend says something that hurts your feelings. (PmB)
- She always blurts things out without thinking of others. (1)
- My friend was in a bad mood and took it out on me. (0)
- You fall down a great deal while skate-boarding. (PmB)
- Skate-boarding is difficult. (1)
- The ground was uneven. (0)
- Your stocks are at an all-time low. (PvB)
- I made a poor choice of stocks. (0)
- I didn’t know much about the business climate at the time. (1)
- You gain weight over the festival holidays and yet can’t lose it. (PmB)
- The diet I tried didn’t work. (0)
- Diets don’t work in the long run. (1)
- A store won’t honour your credit card. (PvB)
- I sometimes forget to pay my credit card bill. (0)
- I sometimes over-estimate how much money I have. (1)
Scoring: Hope has largely been the province of preachers, of politicians and hucksters. The concepts of “explanatory style” – that is, the way you habitually explain to yourself why events happen – bring hope into the laboratory, where scientists can dissect it.
Whether we have hope depends on two dimensions of our explanatory style: pervasiveness and permanence.
Finding temporary and specific causes for misfortune is the art of having hope: Temporary causes limit helplessness in time, and specific causes limit helplessness to the original situation. On the other hand, permanent causes produce helplessness far into the future, and universal causes spread helplessness through all your endeavours. Finding permanent and universal causes for misfortune is the practice of despair.
An illustration of contrasting explanatory styles:
“It’s five chances in 10 that this lump is cancerous.”
“I’m hung over.”
“My husband was in a bad mood.”
“It’s five chances in 10 that this lump is nothing.”
The quiz questions marked “PmB,” for Permanent Bad, test how permanent you think the causes of unfortunate events are. The “PvB,” are Pervasiveness Bad, questions measure whether you draw a general moral from specific instance.
Each answer with a “0” after it is optimistic; with a “1”, pessimistic. On the first question, say you chose “I’m not good at remembering birthdays” rather than “I was preoccupied with other things”; that’s a more permanent, and therefore pessimistic, answer.
Add your PvB and PmB scores to determine your hope index. If the result is 0, 1 or 2, you are extraordinary hopeful; 3, 4, 5 or 6 is moderately hopeful; 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 collapse under pressure, losing hope for a long time and allowing feelings of hopelessness to pervade their every pursuit. Whether your score, here’s hoping you’ll be inspired by the techniques in Seligman’s new essay, “Be an Optimist in Two Weeks”.
Say you’re pessimistic (as most people are) but wish to switch teams and enjoy some of the benefits of being optimistic, is it possible to change your outlook? Just how much of your optimism or pessimism is inherited and based on your genes? A study on 500 pairs of identical twins conducted in 1992 sought to answer this question. Half of the twins were raised together while the other half were raised apart. The study showed 25% heritability of both optimism and pessimism, meaning your disposition to either optimism or pessimism is 25% determined by your genes. So like many other components of our psychology optimism is partly determined by genetics and partly determined by environment, social support as well as our learned behaviors. Martin Seligman a psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania believed optimism like many other skills could be learned. To prove his point he taught students a number of optimism techniques and compared the mental health of these students to those without the skills. Students who learned optimism techniques were far less likely to develop depression, anxiety and also enjoyed improved overall health. If you’re interested in learning optimism you might want to read Seligman’s book, “Learned Optimism”
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