I recently read an article that discussed the benefits of optimism and the possible correlations between an optimistic outlook and physical health. Researchers measured physical health outcomes in a variety of different compromising health issues, including cancer, heart disease, infections, diabetes, kidney failure, and more. They found that better health was in fact tied to optimism – some studies even point to a longer life span in people who are generally optimistic!
Of course, I began considering what “optimism” really means to me, particularly during a rather tumultuous time in our country’s history. American psychologist Martin Seligman defines optimism as reacting to problems with a sense of confidence and high personal ability. Most people associate the word with reflecting a belief that the future will turn out for the best. Personally, I believe that optimism is less about being overtly happy in the face of adversity but rather remaining hopeful and determined that the adversity will pass to make way for better times.
So how can we stay optimistic when situations might tempt us to think negatively?
- Look for examples
All around us are stories of people who have managed to overcome tough times through an optimistic mindset – in books and movies, in your community, in your family and even in your workplace. Our world is full of people who have found optimism and hope in the face of hardship. Reading or learning about their perseverance is not just inspiring, it also opens the door to empathy and greater understanding of the scale of difficulties people may face.
- Change what your inner voice is telling you
When difficulties arise, it’s easy to fall into a negative cycle of thoughts, including despondency, blame, and feeling that you may always be prone to “bad things.” Instead of these thoughts, remind yourself of three important things: It’s not permanent, it’s not pervasive, and it’s not necessarily personal (taking all of the blame). As Seligman says: “Optimism matters because it produces persistence. Permanent explanations for bad events produce long lasting helplessness and temporary explanations produce resilience.”
Whether it is a happy hour with friends, a seminar or conference in your field of interest, or a support group, find others who can help you to feel less alone, allow you to voice your challenges, and offer an optimistic reply. The power of others who provide support can help to reinforce your own optimistic inner dialogue to weather the tough times.
I know I mention exercise often as a remedy for many situations, but the positive effects of exercise are virtually endless. Blood flow to the brain, decreased stress, and boosted endorphins are all great gains from exercising and wonderful ways to combat pessimism and negativity.
Ryan and I practice all of them, why don’t you consider as well? What are some of your tips to stay optimistic? I would love to hear from you!