If you’ve read anything else of mine, you know that I’m rather obsessed with the topics of joy and optimism: how to find them, how to keep them, and how to find them again when you forget.
I even wrote a book about my experience of dedicating 30 days to joy, and the subsequent seemingly miraculous events that followed, called The Joy Plan. You could say I am a joy junkie and an eager optimist-in-training.
This wasn’t always the case. Early on in my marriage, my husband came home one day with a printed manifesto from Optimist International, a poem called "The Optimist Creed" by Christian D. Larson. He stuck it on the refrigerator door, and I promptly removed it. It seemed cheesy to me at the time—like face-slapping evidence of every way I was failing to be positive and chipper.
But now, nearly 15 years later, "The Optimist Creed" is everything I aim to be in life. So if, like me, you’re striving to be an optimist, keep in mind these 10 things that optimists don’t do, based on the powerful poem:
1. Get easily swayed by the actions or opinions of others.
"The Optimist Creed" implores us "To be so strong that nothing can disturb your peace of mind."
2. Complain frequently.
Instead, "…talk health, happiness, and prosperity to every person you meet."
3. Decide that someone has nothing to offer.
On the contrary, "…make all your friends feel that there is something in them."
4. See the glass as half-empty.
Alternatively, "…look at the sunny side of everything and make your optimism come true."
5. Expect to fail.
Optimists strive "…to think only of the best, to work only for the best, and to expect only the best."
6. Feel envious.
Instead, "…be just as enthusiastic about the success of others as you are about your own."
7. Dwell on the past.
The optimist chooses "to forget the mistakes of the past and press on to the greater achievements of the future."
8. Wear a frown, drown in worry.
Alternatively, an optimist’s goal is "…to wear a cheerful countenance at all times and give every living creature you meet a smile."
9. Criticize others.
On the contrary, "…give so much time to the improvement of yourself that you have no time to criticize others."
10. React with anger quickly, forgive slowly.
Optimists are "…too large for worry, too noble for anger, too strong for fear, and too happy to permit the presence of trouble."
Thankfully, optimism is a habit that anyone can learn. Thanks to the phenomenon known as neuroplasticity, our brains literally grow and change shape, forming new neural connections during repeated thoughts and experiences. By repeating positive thoughts and actions as often as possible, we can train our brains to choose optimism more often, even under challenging conditions.
Optimistic thoughts are actually observable in brain scans. Optimism has been shown to regulate levels of the stress hormone cortisol and increase dopamine and other pleasure-inducing neurotransmitters in the brain. Optimistic thoughts also calm the amygdala (the brain’s fear sensor), which allows the prefrontal cortex to do its best thinking.
So there you have it: Optimism feels good to both the brain and the body. Look, I’m not suggesting that we all go bury our heads in the sand. However, each act of optimism helps train our brains to see the bright side of life and therefore shifts the overall level of joy in the world.
So seek small ways to spread optimism if you can, even if it's something as simple as a smile. Every act of love, kindness, and hope counts. As the song goes, "Let there be peace on Earth, and let it begin with me."