Can you teach yourself to be more optimistic in your life?
Optimists see the world as a place with many positive things to do, and they see the future as bright. They are people who love to embrace the present moment with joy.
More crucially, optimists see the best in themselves as well as others.
As a clinical psychologist, I equate optimism with happiness. If you want to be happy, you need to be optimistic. The two go hand-in-hand.
But what happens when unavoidable troubles come into an optimist’s life?
First, they acknowledge the issues instead of dodging or denying them. Then they handle the situation firmly and move through the disappointment, hoping to overcome it.
When an optimistic person faces trouble or despair, they may still be sad or disappointed, but they also feel like they can handle it. They see problems as a bump in the road, not as a mountain too high to climb.
The good news is, you have a choice as to how you feel. You can say, “Woe is me,” or you can say, “I can handle this!”
Becoming more optimistic is a process that takes practice.
How To Be More Optimistic: 5 Practical Tips
Each tip here closes with a phrase that captures the concept. Repeat each phrase in your mind for the next week and see your optimism and happiness levels rise.
Here are the five tips on how to be more optimistic:
1. Look for opportunities in the challenges.
The way you see things has a big influence on your everyday happiness and approach to work.
You can actually boost your joy and resilience by choosing to see a challenging situation in an optimistic light.
This is because your thoughts affect your feelings. If you have many negative thoughts, you will tend to feel bad. And, if you have more positive thoughts, you will tend to feel good.
Understanding that you have a choice about how you can let yourself feel is great news.
Suppose you have to give a presentation at work next week, meet with a new client for the first time, or take a test. Each of these activities could fill you with dread and worry.
But, if you pause to think about it, your worries will not change the situation (but your actions can).
So, instead of worrying, you could change your perspective and look at the situation as an opportunity to share what you know, impress someone new, and showcase your talents.
Here’s a statement to help you change your perspective and be more optimistic:
I realize that every challenge has an inbuilt opportunity.
2. Practice feeling blessed and having an attitude of gratitude.
Did you know that there is a strong correlation between happiness and gratefulness?
Actually, it’s hard to be both grateful and pessimistic at the same time.
The fact that happiness and gratefulness are related means if you work on increasing your attitude of gratitude, you will be more optimistic and happier, too.
Why? For the same reason as above: your thoughts influence the way you feel.
When you practice being more grateful in your day, you will start feeling more optimistic. When you focus on how you can express your gratitude for the good things you are blessed with, you will start noticing the positive things around you.
And when your attention turns to finding the positives, you are naturally able to tune out the negatives.
Try this exercise: Every night before going to bed, write down 2-3 things you’re grateful for, for at least a couple of weeks.
Here’s a statement to help you to practice gratefulness and be optimistic:
I have an attitude of gratitude. I feel blessed to have the things that many others do not.
3. Sleep well and full each night.
It’s not uncommon for me to meet new clients who don’t know why their mood is low, only to discover that they’re barely sleeping five or six hours a night, or even less.
Good sleep has a direct impact on mental health.
And a lack of sleep can cause mood instability including anxiety, restlessness, and impulsiveness.
Get eight hours of sleep each night. Don’t try to make up for lost sleep during the week by oversleeping on weekends.
Getting enough sleep works in the background during your waking hours to improve your productivity, focus, mood, and optimism.
Here is a statement to help you remember to prioritize your sleep habits and be optimistic:
I sleep well at night to be well during the day.
4. Focus more on the positives in your life.
Life is full of ups and downs. It is important to focus on the positive rather than getting caught up in the negative.
If you’re looking for the positive, that is what you will see. The positive, not the negative, will be what gets your attention. If you tend toward the negative, the negative is what you’ll see.
How to be an optimistic person? Here is a great exercise.
Make a list of 10 positive things that have happened in your life. Start from when you were a child, and write down 10 great things you can think of until the present day.
While making the list of positive things, try to not judge anything that you wrote there. Just write any positive thing that comes to your mind.
Your positive events may include experiences you enjoyed, supportive people in your life, successful accomplishments, nice things someone said about you, cool things you’ve learned, places you visited, or a great service you did for someone.
Some specific examples could be:
- I had a wonderful teacher in 1st grade.
- When I was fifteen, I got an A in algebra.
- My grandpa and I would go fishing when I was a kid.
- We had a great dog when I was ten. We loved each other so much.
- In second grade, my team won a contest at school and I was instrumental in it.
Your accomplishments and positive experiences may be unique or commonplace. Make your list and then read it every week as a reminder of the good things that have happened in life.
By the way, that “10 Positive Things” exercise also happens to be one of my favorite exercises to suggest to my clients.
However, don’t force positivity at the cost of ignoring the critical negatives. Find out how “Toxic Positivity” can ruin your life (and how you can avoid it).
Here’s a statement to help you focus on the positive and be optimistic:
When I look for the good, I find it easy to see them.
5. Believe In Yourself
A firm self-belief is how to become positive, happy, and optimistic.
True optimism is not the same as being blind to the problems and obstacles that life presents. Optimism is rather about believing you can handle the challenges of life.
To clients who present to me with anxiety or intense worry over a situation, I ask: “What’s the worst thing that can happen?”
And then, “Can you handle it? If you believe you can handle it, then there’s nothing to fear.”
According to Martin Seligman, a pioneer in the field of Positive Psychology, most people end up handling adverse events better than they think they will.
- Book: Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life by Martin E. P. Seligman
So, rather than having a false belief that you cannot handle something, believe that you can handle it at the outset, and then prove yourself right.
If you do this, you can let go of a lot of worries and live your life in peace. Because now you feel confident in your ability to get through almost anything. And believing in yourself is a wonderful and freeing feeling.
For practice, think of an adverse experience that you handled well. Draw upon this experience when you’re going through something hard, and use it to remind yourself that you can handle this new situation, too.
Here’s a statement to help you to believe in yourself and be optimistic:
I’m capable and resilient.
Having an optimistic attitude is a choice you can make right today. Start with the five tips above and repeat the Optimistic Statements to help reinforce them.
Do these five things and you’ll be more hopeful: 1. Look for opportunities, 2. Practice gratitude, 3. Sleep well, 4. Focus on the positive aspects of your life, and 5. Believe in yourself as being capable of handling hardships.
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Author Bio: Catherine Cirulli, Psy.D., is a Clinical Psychologist and founder of PsychSavvy — an online resource for self-improvement. You will find there a database of step-by-step self-improvement video programs on Improving Self-Esteem, Anger Management, Relationships, and more.
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