I would love to say that I am an optimistic person by nature. I would love to say that–but I would be lying. Unlike some of my friends who always seem to see the bright side, I would usually plan for the worst case scenarios. Optimism is not something that comes easy to me, but over the years I have discovered that optimism is a key factor in achieving happiness.
Optimism plays an important role in determining how resilient we are when facing stressful situations. Without an optimistic perspective, it can be very difficult and at times almost impossible to navigate some of life’s challenges and bounce back quickly . The good news is that while we may not all be born optimists, we can train ourselves to be more optimistic.
There are good reasons to cultivate optimism if it isn’t one of your premier strengths. The first one is simple–no one likes to be around a pessimistic person. If someone is constantly expecting the worst, their attitude will begin to affect those around them. No one likes to be around a Gloomy Gus, so pessimism has an adverse affect on support networks, both personally and professionally. Also, when someone is optimistic they tend to be more flexible and creative in their thinking.
This flexibility comes in very handy when coping with stress. Mental flexibility helps people look at stressful situations from various perspectives. It helps them reframe a situation in a positive manner. Flexible people can explore multiple solutions to a problem, and they can also find a positive meaning in difficult events. These techniques sound relatively simple, but they can be very difficult, especially during stressful times.
So how can you develop an optimistic outlook? Just like getting to Carnegie Hall, it takes practice. Here are some steps you can take when something bad happens.
- Remember that difficulties won’t last forever. The only thing that is constant is change. Sometimes it is almost impossible to believe that problems won’t last forever, but they won’t. Eventually the good times will come back.
- Keep a problem in perspective–don’t let it spread into other aspects of your life.
- Explore ways and resources available to solve the problem. Take responsibility for your actions and don’t expect a problem to solve itself.
- Be grateful for your support network and those around you who appreciate your struggle.
On the other hand, these are some things to do when something good happens (because good things do happen).
- Accept responsibility for whatever part you played in the event. As the old adage says–take credit where credit is due.
- Feel gratitude for what happened, whether it came by design or just good luck.
- Think of ways to expand on the positive event.
These are a few ways to increase optimism, but are certainly not the only ones. There are a lot of factors that determine how optimistic a person is. Some are genetic and some are developmental, but it is possible to increase a positive outlook. A few years ago, I decided to explore ways to increase my happiness and overall satisfaction with my life. Stress seemed to be taking over, and I had trouble finding enjoyment in even the simple things. It certainly wasn’t the way I wanted to live. In a nutshell, I just wanted to be happier.
After practicing these steps during both good and bad times I can now proudly say I am a realistic optimist (and much happier). Building optimism and a positive outlook helped me to neutralize stress and find enjoyment in daily life. I am not saying that optimism eliminates stress–that would be foolish. But keeping an optimistic outlook helps to deal with bad times and minimize their consequences while enhancing the good times. Maintaining an optimistic attitude may not always be easy, especially if it doesn’t come naturally, but it is certainly worth the effort.
Suggested Reading: Resilience, The Science of Mastering Life’s Greatest Challenges, Steven M. Southwick, M.D. and Dennis S.Charney, M.D., 2012