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8 ways to become more optimistic

Studies show that people who are more optimistic have better physical and mental health, which can both result from and contributes to well-being. Optimistic people cope with adversities by addressing rather than avoiding them and their feelings about them; they engage with and accomplish goals to a greater degree, and they are more likely to attend to and pre-emptively address threats to their well-being. So, does seeing the world through rose-coloured glasses end up benefitting us?

How to look at the bright side of life

Although some people seem to have been born on the sunny side of the street, one can cultivate optimism and reap the benefits of a positive outlook. Whether you’re dealing with small concerns or major challenges that involve your family, work, health, or finances, the following tips can help you become more optimistic:

  • Understanding optimism

Optimism isn’t the same thing as happiness. Both optimists and pessimists may feel happy about something that has happened, but their attitudes about it may be very different. You see, optimism is a tendency to think about things positively. Pessimism is a tendency to think about them negatively. And the differences don’t stop here. Optimists and pessimists also view setbacks differently. Optimists consider setbacks temporary and surmountable, making them less likely to give up, and their persistence can help them reach their goals. Pessimists think setbacks will undermine them and will be long term and their attitude can affect how they respond to them.

Takeaway: Even if you tend to see the glass as half empty instead of half full, you can strengthen your ability to stay optimistic and break the habit of giving up when you face challenges.

  • Recognize your negative thinking

Negative thoughts aren’t always unhealthy.  Positive thoughts and emotions can, of course, benefit mental health. However, if you take it to the extreme, positive thinking can be harmful and lead you to ignore dangers like walking down an unlit street late at night or become complacent.

But certain types of negative thoughts can reduce your optimism about your future:

  • Overgeneralizing, or making assumptions about yourself based on too little information.
  • Personalizing, or blaming yourself when things go wrong, even if you don’t have control over the situation.
  • Catastrophizing, or tending to expect the worst.
  • Filtering, or “screening out” the positive aspects of a situation and dwelling on the negative ones.
  • Splitting. This kind of “all-or-nothing thinking” may seem to simplify your view of people or events but is
    restrictive and does not allow you to have a realistic look of the entire situation.

Takeaway: When you fall into one or more of these thought patterns—for example, when you face new challenges – strive to replace your negative thinking with positive thoughts. Work on changing one type of negative view at a time instead of trying to adjust your entire outlook all at once.

  • Change your thinking process

Before you can develop a more positive outlook, you’ve got to stop your negative thinking. Keep in mind that when all of your thoughts are negative, negativity will be all you know. This process may take time, especially if you see yourself as a pessimist or are facing difficult challenges. But you may see a difference right away just by practicing thought-stopping regularly. Stop the negative thought before it clouds your perception and minimizes your energy.

Takeaway: Pull back from time to time and listen to the messages you’re sending yourself. If you have negative thoughts about a situation you can’t change, try to replace them with positive ones. For example, you may say something like, “I can handle this,” when you are in a situation that you cannot change. What you can change is how you view the situation.

  • Engage in positive self-talk

Create alternate responses to the negative thoughts you would like to overcome and consider writing those responses down. For example, if you think, “I’ll never be able to finish that project,” try, “I’ll break it down into manageable parts.” If you think, “I don’t know how to do that,” try, “I have a chance to learn
something new.” Developing healthy affirmations can help to remind yourself to either take action or calm down.

Takeaway: Make positive self-talk a habit. And yes, it might sound and feel ridiculous at first, but if you keep going, it will become natural to you. Here’s an easy trick: Put motivating, positive post-it notes wherever you’ll see them – on the bathroom mirror, on your computer screen, on the fridge. Remind yourself to speak kindly to yourself until it becomes a habit.

  • Bring more humour into your life

Tap into the power of laughter to banish gloomy thoughts. Rent funny movies, hang a cartoon up on your bulletin board, or enjoy the jokes or humorous songs your friends upload to Facebook or a blog.

Takeaway: Spend time with “shiny, happy” people. Research has found that upbeat emotions such as enthusiasm and joy, as well as negative ones such as sadness, fear, and anger are easily passed from one person to another, often without either party realizing it. It’s called “emotional contagion.” This means chronic complainers may bring you down even if you aren’t aware of it. Try to spend as much time as you can with optimistic people who lift your spirits.

  • Practice gratitude

A pessimistic outlook may cause you to lose sight of the things you’re thankful for; practicing gratitude can restore the balance. Spend a few minutes each day thinking about the good things in your life or sharing them with a friend or family member. Some experts suggest that you keep a “gratitude journal” and write down the things that make you feel grateful.

Takeaway: Do you prefer to write in a physical journal or record your thoughts digitally? Whatever you choose, try to attach it to an existing habit like having your morning coffee, reading before bed or while commuting to work. Shift your mindset about it as something you want to do, not as a chore.

  • Choose happiness

Research on happiness has revealed that pursuing your unique purpose and living a meaningful life can lead to happiness. “You can use the power of decision-making to choose activities, friends, and mindsets that will pave the way to a purposeful and happy life,” according to Sanjiv Chopra and Gina Vild in their book, The Two Most Important Days: How to Find Your Purpose – and Live a Happier, Healthier Life.

Takeaway: Recognize what you can control. You may start to feel pessimistic if you dwell on things you can’t control. When you find yourself worrying, take a minute to examine the things you have control over. You can’t prevent a storm from coming, but you can prepare for it.

  • Develop or keep up healthy routines

Optimism is more comfortable to maintain when you feel good physically and mentally. Exercising, eating healthy, and getting plenty of sleep are just a few key things you need to do to take care of yourself. Meditation, an engaging hobby, or time with positive friends can also help.

Takeaway: Start the day with a spring in your step using a positive morning routine. Wake up earlier, get up immediately, drink water, enjoy a little exercise, shower, eat a good breakfast, meditate or read something inspiring.

Get help if you have unwanted negative thoughts that won’t go away

Your employee assistance program (EAP), a therapist, or counsellor can give you other ideas on what to do if you have persistent negative thoughts that are interfering with your work, relationships, or enjoyment of life.

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