Optimism — it does both your mind and body good. In fact, numerous studies indicate that optimists generally enjoy healthier hearts, brains, immunity and tend to live longer than their less upbeat counterparts. But for some, optimism is easier said than done.
Let’s say you weren’t born with an innate abundance of optimism, or perhaps life’s challenges have tamped down some of your enthusiasm ... then what?
The answer is to teach yourself some skills that can help you develop a greater sense of optimism and resilience. This health-supportive turn of mind is learnable. Just like eating well or staying fit, it becomes easier with a little practice and, of course, a roadmap.
Here are a few ways to help guide yourself in a more optimistic direction. Try adding one or two and keep adding new skills to your repertoire over time. As your experience with and capacity for optimism grows, you’ll be on your way to becoming that healthier, upbeat person you wish to be. In the words of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, “Choose to be optimistic, it feels better.” To which I say, "Amen.”
So, let’s get started:
1. Make a point of being grateful every day.
Live like an optimist and celebrate all your blessings — not what’s missing. At the beginning or end of each day, in a journal or on your calendar, jot down three simple things you’re grateful for, no matter how inconsequential they might seem. Periodically revisit the ever-growing list to keep you connected with that sense of gratitude and appreciation for all the things that go right in life every day.
2. Don’t sweat the small stuff.
Have a little empathy! In other words: stop judging and start living! Don’t flip the bird at your fellow drivers. Don’t berate the coffee guy when he mangles your order. Don’t go bananas when your plane is 10th on the runway. To behave more like an optimist, learn to embrace patience and let minor irritations go. Consider it an informal exercise in Zen. Learn to go with the flow and limit slash-and-burn freak-outs to actual emergencies (and even then, do so sparingly).
3. Look for the silver lining. (It's in there.)
When things get tough, the optimist looks for the silver lining in the midst of adversity. So should you. By making the effort to find the good and extract the lessons from a difficult situation, you lessen the sting and can bounce back more quickly.
Rather than dwelling in fear and regret, learning to be more resilient — to bend without breaking — will enable you to greet future challenges in a can-do frame of mind, with patience and wisdom versus fear and regret.
4. Have faith you'll get beyond the bumps.
When faced with a challenge, remind yourself that you’ve made it through life’s storms thus far, and there’s an excellent chance you’ll make it through whatever comes next.
And what comes next may not be a storm at all, but a spectacular sunset or a wonderful, life-changing moment. Know in your heart that you will prevail and make the thought of a beautiful outcome your mental default setting, not the dark clouds.
5. Choose your media wisely.
We all have “noise” in our lives, but optimists gravitate to the upbeat kind. Beautiful photos, inspiring films, soul-stirring music, funny videos and television shows support a more positive perspective, so as you’re learning to become more optimistic, consider restricting the flow of negative images into your daily consciousness. There’s a big difference between staying informed and immersing yourself in gruesome or upsetting tabloid news, so know when it’s time to retreat.
6. Limit your exposure to negative people.
When it comes to pessimism, a little goes a long way. Instead, spend more time with optimists and less with the “Debbie Downers.” That’s not to say you need to cut them off completely, but if you're trying to change your perspective, limit exposure. If there are a number of pessimists in your inner circle, share your interest in optimism or lead by example and gently direct conversations in a positive direction.
7. Be mindful of the language you use when talking to yourself.
It’s a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy: the optimists’ positive self-talk and confidence in their abilities helps stack the deck for positive outcomes. Even if plans go awry, their optimistic outlook helps them to better cope with occasional setbacks, versus labeling something a disaster and giving up in despair. Next time a potentially scary new project comes your way, instead of fretting, think — Adventure! Opportunity! Solutions! New experiences! — and you’ll be speaking the language of optimism.
For more ideas on how to create embrace behaviors that support optimism and health, check out Matthieu Ricard’s inspiring lecture.