How to Be Optimistic


While being skeptical can be a healthy way to avoid getting taken advantage of, being pessimistic – that is, always assuming the worst – can have major negative consequences on your life. Seeing only the negative aspects of any situation can cause you to miss opportunities, neglect problems that need to be solved, and fail to take action that would otherwise improve your relationships and quality of life. Optimists look for the light at the end the tunnel. If you’ve always had a pessimistic worldview, it can be difficult to shift your focus, but it is possible to start seeing the glass as half full, not half empty.

Steps

  1. Let go of the assumption that the world is against you, or that you were born with a gray cloud over your head. It is an assumption that has no basis in reason or science. To believe that the universe or a spiritual entity has singled you out and shifted the world order just to make your life miserable is both self-centered and illogical. Be humble and stop pretending you’ve got the world all figured out. Sometimes bad experiences lead to good experiences, and you can’t predict the future, so you can’t assume it’ll always be bad.
  2. Look for the source of your pessimism. Deep-rooted negativity can often be traced to childhood experiences, when growing minds observe their circumstances and make presumptions about how the world functions. If all you saw growing up were disappointments, betrayals and failure, it’s no surprise that now it’s what you expect from the world as an adult. Sometimes we pick up a flair for pessimism from a parent who made negative assumptions about the world somewhere along the line. Either way, the sooner you can attribute your pessimism to a unique set of circumstances rather than the state of the world itself, the easier it’ll be to change your perspective.
  3. Understand that the past does not equal the future. Just because you’ve experienced pain or disappointment in the past does not guarantee that it’s all you’ll experience in the future. There were many things in your past that you couldn’t control, and everybody comes across unfortunate circumstances at some point in their lives – you’re no exception. But there are also many things in life we can control to one degree or another, and therein lies the possibility of change. A day or week that starts badly will not necessarily end badly. Do not make a bad start turn into a self fulfilling prophecy for a bad ending.
  4. See yourself as a cause, not an effect. You don’t have to be a product or a victim of your circumstances. Stop thinking about what is happening to you and start thinking about what you can make happen. If you’re not happy with the way your life is now, set goals and move on. Use your past negative experiences to build character and make better decisions, instead of letting pessimism turn you into someone who avoids risk at all costs. Sometimes it is necessary to take risks to receive rewards. Moreover, taking no action is taking an action. It is better to play to win rather than merely to avoid losing.
  5. Accept pain, failure and disappointment as a part of life, not the entirety of it. Life involves taking many risks every day, and not all of them will end positively. That’s what defines risk. But the flip side is that some actions will lead to good results, and it’s generally better to have a mixed bag than to have nothing at all. Ideally, the good stuff will outweigh the bad, but you’ll never reach that point unless you put yourself out there and hope for the best. When in doubt, remember Lord Alfred Tennyson’s words of wisdom:I hold it true, whate’er befall;
    I feel it, when I sorrow most;
    ‘Tis better to have loved and lost
    Than never to have loved at all.
  6. Be thankful. Everyone has something to be grateful for. Make a list of the good things that have happened to you. If nothing instantly springs to mind, you aren’t trying hard enough. The key to being an optimist is recognizing the benefits and possibilities of any situation, and understanding that it could always be worse. If all else fails, think of how life could be worse, and flip the thought process to recognize what you do have. For example: “I’m flunking out of school” can turn into “Well, at least I have a chance to go to school, and I still have time to turn my grades around.” Get a notebook and a pen, and write down all the good things that you have. Every time you are feeling negative, read through them and remind yourself that it’s not all bad.
  7. Use positive affirmations. Write down short statements that remind you of what you’re trying to change about the way you see the world. Put them in places where you’ll see them every day, such as on your bathroom mirror, the inside of your locker, on your computer monitor, and even taped to your shower wall. Some affirmations to start with are:
    • “Anything is possible.”
    • “I create my circumstances, my circumstances don’t create me.”
    • “The only thing I can control is my attitude towards life.”
    • “I always have a choice.”
  8. Remember that life is short. When you feel pessimism clouding your judgment or you start to feel down about the future, remind yourself that every minute counts, and any time spent brooding guarantees nothing but less time to enjoy whatever life might have to offer. At its core, pessimism is impractical because it causes you to spend time dwelling on things that haven’t happened yet and aren’t guaranteed to happen, and it prevents you from getting things done. Pessimism breeds indecision. It’s a waste of time, and time is a limited resource that you can’t afford to take for granted.
  9. Be a balanced optimist. Nobody’s suggesting that you become an oblivious Pollyanna, pretending that nothing bad can or ever will happen. Doing so can lead to poor decisions and invites people to take advantage of you. Instead, be a rational optimist who takes the good with the bad, in hopes of the good ultimately outweighing the bad, and with the understanding that being pessimistic about everything accomplishes nothing. Prepare for the worst but hope for the best – the former makes you sensible, and the latter makes you an optimist.

Tips

  • Use quotes to remind yourself how to be optimistic. Maybe during a particularly tough day someone mentions some saying that gives you a rare boost of motivation, write it down. Here are a few inspirational saying:
    • Even the longest journey begins with a single step
    • Life has a way of reminding one that it can be worse
    • Until one understands the low and darker side of life, the appreciation of the awe-inspiring highs will remain stagnant
    • Every cloud has a silver lining
  • Look happy. Studies have shown that putting a positive expression on your face can actually make you feel happier and more optimistic about the future.[1]
  • Practice by conveying these ideas to others. If you hear someone being pessimistic, counsel them based on these steps. Sometimes it’s easier to understand a perspective if you explain it to someone else first.
  • No matter how odd this may sound, listen to optimistic music (that you like) and read books that have a least a little optimism in it.

Warnings

  • Avoid negative people. If you can’t avoid them, learn how to not let them get you down.
  • Don’t confuse pessimism with depression. Depression can make everything look worse than it is.
  • While it is true that you create your own circumstances, accept that the past is the past. Don’t let negative circumstances trigger irrational guilt.
  • Realize that it’s not about what happens to you, it’s about how you react to what happens.

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