When times are hard, and you’re feeling insecure, unsure, or simply unhappy, it’s natural to want to share your feelings with others. Yet continually voicing your difficulties can push you – and others – down a rabbit hole of negativity, ironically leading to increased disconnection from others, a poorer outlook on life, and even compromised health. Optimism has the opposite effect, according to numerous studies, positively impacting both mind and body. Research shows that the hearts, brains, immune systems and longevity of optimists do better in the long run than their Debbie Downer counterparts. So, choose optimism for better health!
For those who figure, either you’re born an optimist or you’re not, the idea of cultivating optimism might seem inauthentic. But you can just as easily think of optimism as a skill. Work at it and you’ll get better over time. You don’t have to force it or jump from rain clouds to rainbows in a day.
Instead, make a commitment to navigate the everyday with a slightly brighter perspective. This can be as easy as noting your tendency to complain about the weather, your boss, your significant other, or your kids – and then cutting the negative commentary off at the pass. Focus on the good that’s also in that situation or relationship – and be grateful and thankful for it. The good is always there – you just need to look at from a different angle.
As we start the new year, one that’s likely to be packed with highs, lows and more drama than a telenovela, make the effort to choose optimism. It will help you become more resilient, connected and happier in 2020 and beyond. To inspire your pursuit of optimism, here are some thoughts from three wise men on the subject, plus a few practical tips on how to make optimism your own:
Take a tip from the Ultimate Optimist
In the words of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, “Choose to be optimistic, it feels better,” and I couldn’t agree more. It’s a very simple idea but a powerful one, particularly when you consider that the man saying it has lived in exile for most of his life, a witness to the destruction of his traditional Buddhist culture in Tibet. The Dalai Lama says, “Optimism does not mean being blind to the actual reality of a situation, it means maintaining a positive spirit to continue to seek a solution to any given problem. And it means recognizing that any given situation has many different aspects — positive as well as problematic.”
Optimism offers hope and strength; pessimism doesn’t
If you think some people have more reason to be optimistic that others, simply turn your thoughts to Nelson Mandela, who you might think had little to be happy about during his decades-long incarceration. Choosing optimism in a desperate situation enabled him to survive, and ultimately triumph. Said Mandela, “I am fundamentally an optimist. Whether that comes from nature or nurture, I cannot say. Part of being optimistic is keeping one’s head pointed toward the sun, one’s feet moving forward. There were many dark moments when my faith in humanity was sorely tested, but I would not and could not give myself up to despair. That way lays defeat and death.” One can’t help but think that his long (95 years long), inspiring life may have had a lot to do with his highly developed brand of optimism.
Optimism runs deep and spreads
Another reason to embrace optimism? Practicing it allows it to spread across so many aspects of your life, enhancing and improving everything it touches. In the words of Mahatma Gandhi, who also understood something about enduring adversity and oppression, “Keep your thoughts positive, because your thoughts become your words. Keep your words positive because your words become your behavior. Keep your behavior positive, because your behavior becomes your habits. Keep your habits positive, because your habits become your values. Keep your values positive, because your values become your destiny.”
Put optimism to work in your life
So, how to make room for optimism when it may not be your default setting? Put the following practices in place and welcome the New Year with optimism and open arms:
- Don’t sweat the small stuff – focus less on minor irritations and learn to let go more.
- Do learn to be thankful – and grateful for what you have, not what you think you’re missing.
- Do have faith and hope – in better days ahead, even if they don’t seem imminent.
- Do look for silver linings – they’re in there somewhere, you might just have to poke around to find them.
- Do give yourself an occasional break – from that which drags your spirits down, be it social media, the 24/7 news cycle, negative people, etc.
- Do spend more time inspiring yourself – with like-minded people, walking in nature, giving back to others, whatever gives you joy
How else to embrace behaviors that support optimism and health? Take a look at Buddhist monk Matthieu Ricard’s TED Talk on “The Habits of Happiness.”