Optimism is a mindset of hopefulness and confidence about the future and is a construct that often gets misconstrued. It is frequently mistaken as thinking ALL the time positively, but this is not true. Optimism is NOT toxic positivity or the obsession with positive thinking. People with this belief look to put a positive spin on all experiences, even those that may be highly stressful or profoundly tragic. Toxic positivity can silence negative emotions, which must be experienced as part of the total human experience. It can also demean grief and/or pressure people to feign happiness despite their feelings and circumstances.
But the world around us can sometimes be negative and challenging. How do we stay positive? Uplifted? Optimistic? Three steps toward a more optimistic you:
1. Be curious, and be a learner. Charlie Mackesy, author of “The Boy, the Mole, the Fox, and the Horse,” includes a theme of optimism in his story. Explore this delightful book for opportunities to read and reflect on the nature of optimism and enhanced well-being.
“This storm will pass,” the author writes above, a drawing depicting the boy and his animal friends huddled amidst a menacing storm.
Optimistic people believe that adverse events are temporary, limited in scope, and manageable. By limited scope, we mean one does not expect adverse events to permeate every aspect of a person's life.
“The greatest illusion,” said the mole, “Is that life should be perfect.”
Optimism understands that one does not have to think all the time positively. One knows that life is rich with a wide range of experiences, including challenges and uplifting ones.
“One of our greatest freedoms,” explains the mole to the boy, “Is how we react to things.”
Research indicates that we can influence our ability to regulate our feelings, thoughts, and behavior under stress simply by shifting the way we talk to ourselves. Are you kind to others but critical of yourself? Negative self-talk creates a negative opinion of oneself, influencing our feelings, thoughts, and behavior. Reframing our negative self-talk with positive messages takes time and practice. It is like creating a new blueprint for how you relate to yourself. It takes some work, but well worth it. Examples of positive self-talk include the following.
- Instead of saying to yourself, “It’s too complicated for me.” Say, “I’ll take this as a challenge.” Or, “I like a good challenge!”
- Instead of saying to yourself, “I’m not good at this.” Say, “This is hard, but I will do it with practice.” Or, “I have lots of strengths to draw upon for this.
3. Practice gratitude. Research shows that practicing gratitude reduces stress, improves self-esteem, and nurtures resilience even in tough times. Writing down the things you are grateful for can improve your optimism and overall sense of well-being. Write notes of gratitude or keep a gratitude journal. Think of people or experiences that bring comfort or happiness and express your appreciation to them in a handwritten note, and/or write about them in your gratitude journal. On difficult days, jot down a list of things you are grateful for. Deliver your handwritten gratitude notes to the intended recipients while also sharing your message verbally. Select a strategy and do it consistently. Develop a habit through regular practice and build your gratitude muscle.
Follow the advice of Michael J. Fox, an actor and an advocate:
“And if you don’t think you have anything to be grateful for, keep looking. Because you don’t just receive optimism. You can’t wait for things to be great and then be grateful for that. You’ve got to behave in a way that promotes that.”
He also says, "With gratitude, optimism is sustainable." Remember, optimism is a mindset. Let's grow it!
Explore Charlie Mackesy's work here
Learn more about Michael J. Fox's reflections on his 30th anniversary with Parkinson's disease here
Share your email (Subscribe) below to receive helpful information and tips on positive self-talk. We promise not to send junk mail. We will send occasional emails when we update or create an awesome resource to share!