You’ve probably heard the advice “be positive!” one thousand times before. It isn’t realistic to be positive every second of every day, but actively trying to be more optimistic, even just a little bit, can have drastic benefits on your health and wellbeing!
Research shows that optimistic people experience better health, greater persistence towards goals, and lower reactivity to stress. For some, optimism may come naturally, and for others, it may take a conscious effort. In both cases, you can learn to be a more optimistic person.
This article will help you to learn what optimism is, why it is so important, and some helpful strategies to be more optimistic in your life, even when times get tough.
What does it mean to be optimistic?
Optimism is a mindset, the way in which you think and see the world. Optimists tend to see or search for the positives. They anticipate that things will turn out well, and if they do not, they will still manage to find the good in the situation.
On the other side of the spectrum are pessimists. Pessimists tend to focus on the negatives in a situation. They anticipate that things will turn out poorly and generally don’t believe that good things will happen.
Usually, people aren’t fully optimistic or pessimistic, but rather somewhere in the middle.
If you lean more on the pessimistic side, you are not necessarily doomed to think that way forever. By changing our perspective and actively trying to integrate optimism into our lives, we can all become a little bit more positive.
Why is being optimistic important?
There are countless studies that highlight the benefits optimism can have on your health and well-being. When it comes to physical health, studies show that optimism is associated with stronger health outcomes and a lower chance of illness.
A systemic review of 15 studies with over 200,000 participants found that optimism was linked to a 35% lower chance of heart disease, and a 14% lower chance of early death.
Better health outcomes may be related to the fact that optimistic people are also more likely to have stronger coping skills. Research shows that optimistic people are more proactive and experience lower levels of avoidance, or disengagement styles of coping.
When it comes to reaching your goals, optimists may fare better than pessimists. Optimists tend to persist and believe that their goals are achievable. Optimistic people are more committed to working towards their goals, even when faced with obstacles or setbacks.
Additionally, research shows that when goals are not met or are too difficult, optimists are able to adapt and identify new goals in life.
4 strategies to be more optimistic
If you are not an optimistic person naturally, it may feel difficult to adopt an upbeat attitude. However, with a little dedication and commitment, anyone can become more optimistic, even if it doesn’t come naturally. Here are 4 tips to help you become more optimistic!
1. Be more mindful
Mindfulness is the practice of being engaged, attentive, and focused on the present moment.
Being present in the here and now can be helpful as it gives you a break from worrying about the future or ruminating about the past.
When you are present and living fully in the moment, you may be more appreciative, and less occupied with anxious or negative thoughts. As your negative and anxious thoughts decrease, your sense of optimism may increase.
If you’re interested in learning more about the benefits of mindfulness and how you can implement it into your life, check out this article.
2. Practice gratitude
Gratitude is the thankful appreciation you have for the good things in your life. This can be for small things, like being grateful for a good cup of coffee in the morning, or for the nice weather, or for larger things, like having a strong support network, or good health.
Research shows that gratitude is strongly related to greater happiness. It helps people feel more positive emotions, cherish positive moments, improve health, cope with adversity, and build strong relationships.
Some people practice gratitude by journaling. For example, you may start by writing 5 things you are grateful for every day. This helps you focus on the positive, and the act of journaling has some other major benefits as well!
3. Re-frame your failures
Failures are a normal part of life that everyone will experience at one point or another. Usually, when failure happens, we become overwhelmed with negative emotions such as anger, guilt, humiliation, sadness, and so on. These emotions are normal, but when we let them shape how we see ourselves and the future, that is when it turns into pessimism.
It’s important to recognize that failure does not define you. Failure can be a learning experience and an important step in your growth and development. Learning from failure allows you to maintain an optimistic outlook and look forward to future opportunities to do better.
4. Learn what you can (and can't) control
Optimistic people are better able to adapt when things don’t go their way. It is difficult to let go of control and accept uncertainty, but once you are able to do so, you will feel a sense of freedom and empowerment.
When difficult situations happen, analyze what is within your control, and what is not.
For example, let’s say you just failed an exam in school. The fact that you failed has already happened and is not something you can control or change. You can control your next steps, however. For example, taking steps to better prepare for the next exam, seeking extra help from a peer or teacher, and taking care of your mental and physical health (e.g. getting enough sleep, eating healthy).
Controlling what you can and accepting what you cannot control allows you to take charge of the situation. If you move forward and persist through the challenges, you will experience less rumination about the past and less pessimism about the future.
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It isn’t always easy to be optimistic, it is a skill that takes intentional practice. That being said, there are so many proven benefits of being optimistic, so why not give it a try? Start small with one of the tips in this article, and go from there!
Do you consider yourself to be an optimist? If not, what's your motivation for trying to become one? I'd love to hear from you in the comments below!