Studies show that optimists tend to live longer, have better relationships and make more money, and there’s no doubt that rational optimism can be the difference between happiness and misery when times are tough. But being optimistic is kind of like getting yourself to the gym vs binging Netflix — even when we know what’s best for us, the actual doing is the hard part. And in these times especially, being optimistic while being bombarded with personal stress and negative news is no mean feat.
What, then, are some practical, easy-to-implement and simple things you can think about and try that will help you becoming more optimistic?
This article is intended to answer that question by compiling input from all kinds of optimists on how they remain optimistic even in the face of major challenges. Here’s the question we put out:
For the pessimists among us who focus far too much on the negatives of life, what #1 piece of advice can you share for being more optimistic? Personal stories on how you became more optimistic are welcome, along with of course input from mental health experts.
Of the 21 comments I’ve chosen to publish so far (see below), here’s how I’d summarize the main suggestions people have made to help with optimism (for each bullet point, you can click the link to be taken to the full comment):
- Take care of your health
- When you’re having pessimistic thoughts, imagine the opposite and embrace the middle between pessimism and optimism (where the realism lies)
- Focus first on neutral observations, sensations, feelings, needs, and values
- Make it a game, or a hobby, of imagining pleasant outcomes
- Write down what’s happened and force yourself to explain things in an optimistic way
- Use positive reframing (EDITORS NOTE: See this article from Harvard University for a rundown of positive reframing)
- Simply focus on what you can control and value, not all of the issues going on in the world you have zero control over. Instead of consuming news and social media you can spend your recreational time doing things you genuinely enjoy
- Forgive and let go (EDITORS NOTE: For tips on forgiving, see our community discussion on how to forgive)
- Focus on small changes
- Look at what there is to lose and gain when you make a decision, and by focusing on what there is to gain it’s much easier to be optimistic
- Practice mindfulness (EDITORS NOTE: See our community discussion on the benefits of mindfulness)
- Practice gratitude, such as by writing 3 things you’re grateful for each morning (EDITORS NOTE: See our community discussion on why gratitude is important)
- Focus on yourself and your own improvement, rather than comparing yourself to others
- Listen to your favorite song
- Focus on your success
- Surround yourself with positive people
- Create positivity by helping others
- Be nicer to yourself by doing things like making sure you’re getting enough sleep or making lunch for yourself the night before
Do you have your own tips for becoming an optimist that have worked for you personally and you’d like to share? Submit a comment here and we’ll add it to this article.
I used to think that one’s optimism relied on results and achievements but there are times in life where you’re at your lowest that you need optimism more than ever. The best way to achieve that is by taking care of your health. In order to be more optimistic, one needs to be well-rested, have an ample amount of sleep and exercise. These practices, often overlooked, helps greatly in fighting fatigue and help us maintain the positive mindset one needs to persevere in life. One’s health can make or break one’s ability to succeed.
--Simon Elkjaer, avXperten
As the saying goes, for pessimists the glass is half empty, for optimists the glass is half full. Right in the middle however are realists, who see both sides. That is where I believe optimism lies for the pessimist. In CBT, or Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy, we call it re-framing. A re-frame is just as it sounds, a new way to view an old picture.
The one quick and easy habit you can begin now to find yourself moving away from pessimism, to a more realistic view is to find it's opposite. In other words, when you find yourself thinking pessimistic thoughts, find the opposite and then embrace the middle where realism lies.
This action won't change you from Eeyore to Tigger overnight, but it will land you somewhere in the middle, sort of like Winnie the Pooh! (FUN LITTLE VISUAL)
In other words, this newly formed habit won't change you right away, but, over time you will find yourself thinking less pessimistically!
Try it for 30 days and see if you don't feel better.
PS. Gratitude in all things helps too.
--Michelle R Hammer, MS, LCPC, Turning Leaf Counseling & Consultation
I can share a personal story of how I became more optimistic as well as some tips I use with my clients as a hypnotist and coach.
The basics are:
- Focus on neutral observations, sensations, feelings, needs, and values
- Stay solution-oriented
- Find gratitude whenever possible
To all the pessimists out there! Many people find comfort in pessimism, because if you can't get let down any further than you have already expected, you don't have to feel disappointment - but is that any way to live? And what are the effects on one's mental health?
It turns out, the effects aren't great - and more and more focus today is being put on the fact that we really do attract what we believe. So, being able to visualize at a deep level the positive outcome we want, actually helps that to occur without having to try very hard.
Personally, there reached a point after having my first child where I seemed suddenly to become aware of a very negative and critical mental self-talk within myself, leading to negative talk to family and friends as well. I realized that I must not be very fun to be around when I spoke this way, because I couldn't actually even stand listening to my own mental chatter anymore either. It was depressing. I actually began turning this around by just setting the intention: I want to become more positive. I made this my intention for my yoga practice for a few weeks. I realized that most of what I was saying to myself could be framed a different way just by intending to see all sides of an issue. A lot of what I was saying wasn't even objectively true, and the words were mostly based on judgement rather than observation.
This is the #1 thing I learned and work with my clients on - getting down to the actual in-the-moment observations, feelings, sensations and needs present in the moment (as per Marshall Rosenberg's book Nonviolent Communication).
Values also are a very neutral, related, matter of fact thing to focus on. I can switch the thought Oh my god I can't believe I have gained weight, I will never get it off, this is it for me! I am just getting fat now...etc. etc. to I notice that my scale is now reading five pounds more than last time I checked, and I am not at my pre-pregnancy weight yet. I can tune in and notice that there's a sinking feeling in my chest signaling disappointment. This tunes me into a value I hold on staying fit - and that actually all this is showing me is that I care about my health, and this is a good thing! My need is for health, exercise, and to bring mindfulness to my food choices. If I went down the false, negative self-talk road I was beginning to go down before, I would probably not have focused on the truth that I do care about my health, but I would have been telling myself all kinds of negative self-judgements. Once tuning in the the in-the-moment sensations, feelings, needs, and values I can switch gears to a simple honest statement about the facts of the matter and what solutions are available to me. I have been eating more chocolate lately. I will start eating one portion per day, and make sure I get my runs in this week. I can then look for the positive side and what I can actually be grateful for in the moment, I love running and how it makes me feel anyway! I can actually be glad this happened, because I now have the motivation I have been looking for to get into a better running routine. I can also visualize the outcome I want, such as stepping onto the scale in two weeks and seeing the change I want.
For clients of mine that may be experiencing pessimism about something like an upcoming interview or family event - I bring them through this same process of letting go of any assumptions, evaluations, or judgements to focus instead on simple neutral observations, sensations, feelings, needs, and values. Then, they can visualize themselves thinking, feeling, and acting exactly as they would like to in the interview or event they are preparing for. They can focus simply on rehearsing this mentally or taking any solution-oriented action steps they may have identified instead of indulging in any unhelpful, pessimistic self-talk. Finding gratitude always goes a long way too in cultivating optimism and therefore more positive, uplifting emotions as well.
--Jacqueline King-Presant, M.A., CLC, CCH, Sound HypnoWellness
The #1 trick for being more optimistic is to make a game, a hobby, of imagining pleasant outcomes. Our brains don’t know the difference between fantasy and reality. All that matters to our minds is the thought process. When you develop a habit of thinking in positive ways, life tends to become a positive experience. When you expect the best, it tends to arrive. That’s why people who believe in GOD tend to be surrounded by kindness. When you believe that compassionate, holy light surrounds you, you feel relaxed. People feel more relaxed in your presence, too. That tends to have a healing effect on many levels, including physical and emotional.
When you feel pessimistic, angry, frustrated, or somehow negative, disconnect from feeling down. Focus on positivity and release the negativity. It’s a psychological shift to harmony/balance as opposed to the emotional fragmentation of fear, oppression, etc. Mindfulness heals emotions and even many physical problems. Enjoy the benefits of feeling optimistic. It becomes more fun when people choose to share it with a light-hearted you. Make optimism your auto-pilot and drive yourself into a sweeter future.
--Yocheved Golani, e-counseling.com
My number 1 tip to stay optimistic is writing down what happened today and forcing yourself to explain things in an optimistic way. This will greatly change the way you look at things and will gradually make you an optimistic person. All you need is just a diary.
--Cherry Yang, Mobility With Love
When I was much younger, I had this habit of constantly expecting the worst from different situations. This was my way of avoiding disappointments and heartbreaks. However, as I grew older, I realized how draining this habit had become, and how dull it made life seem. In order to break this habit, I did some research online, and came across a technique known as positive reframing. It involves shifting one's perspective about a situation or experience from negative to positive. I have been practicing this habit for years, and it has honestly changed my outlook on life, and made me more appreciative even when bad things happen, or when things do not go my way. My reaction to negative experiences and situations has also improved, and this has contributed immensely to my character development. I can honestly say I am a better person thanks to positive reframing, and becoming more optimistic in life.
--Carol Tompkins, AccountsPortal
Focus on what you value and what you want your life to like like when you first wake in the morning, before you look at your phone, TV, or any news. By thinking about what you value and what you want to accomplish today, you are focusing your energy on what you can control, and therefore, creating a positive, powerful, and optimistic mindset. Instead, if you let the outside world in before you have actively determined what you want your life to look like today, it is easy to get caught up in worry about the future, focus on what you cannot control, and therefore have a helpless and pessimistic attitude about your life.
--Kathryn Ely, Empower Counseling
The best tried and tested way to be optimistic is to forgive and let go. When something happens that makes you feel pessimistic or negative, know that you can look at the situation from a different angle. You can change your perspective. Also, let go of any negative emotions, such as frustration, anger, disappointment, or sadness. A fabulous way to release negative emotions is to use the Sedona Method. Forgive yourself for things you did or didn’t do in the past. And then learn to forgive others. Forgive others so you and your life can move forward. When you have hatred against someone else, it negatively affects your life by thinking about it. So, it makes little sense to hold on to any resentment or grudge against another person. So learn to forgive others, so you can free yourself of these negative emotions.
--Maria Godwin, Best Reviews UK
After years of feeling like everything in life would always go wrong, I realized that other people in my life had the same experience as me, yet believed it would all be okay! The difference, I found out, was the type of content they read, the websites they spent their time on, and the shows they watched.
Instead of being addicted to the news and social media, I decided to shift my recreational time to reading fiction books I enjoyed, watching comedies, and making sure I kept up on uplifting news sources as well. This changed my whole outlook on life because I wasn't being constantly bombarded by sad stories, tragic events, and other people's woes. I can now be a more supportive person to those who need it and get through the rough times because I'm much more optimistic.
--Kalyn Franke, Goodbye Self-Help
Try to look beyond negative thoughts. If your default thought is something negative, try to find competing thoughts, that are equally or more likely to occur. The first thought that comes to your head isn't always the most likely one. Sometimes, there isn't an obvious answer, but with some effort, you can always find more positive thoughts about the situation, even if they are only marginally more positive.
Negative thoughts are always going to come up in your life. You just can't be positive all the time. However, with this in mind, you now have a tool you can use that with enough practice will become second nature to use. This simple thing has had a large impact on the way I process things. I still think negative thoughts, but a lot of times, I can turn it around on its head and feel better using this technique.
--Aviram K., Woof & Beyond
The best tried and tested way to be more optimistic is to focus on small changes. What can you do today to better your life? It doesn’t matter if it’s something small. The key is to take responsibility. Negative thinkers often believe that they are hopeless and helpless. They accuse others. However, you can do more than you think. We always have a decision about how to think and how to act. So, what can you do to make any position better for yourself? By taking positive action, you will always feel better.
--Sylvia Manman Kang, Mira
My #1 piece of advice for being optimistic is to focus on what there is to lose and gain. It's very practical, which is why it often appeals to people who are not naturally optimistic. Often, there is so much more to gain. When I was weighing the pros and cons of moving from Virginia to New York City, the odds were only slightly in favor of New York. There was a lot for me to risk. But I focused on the possibilities, what there was to gain, and have certainly benefited from that optimism.
--Christine Sloan Stoddard, worldofchristinestoddard.com
In my opinion, optimism is a habit. Science agrees (https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/lifetime-connections/201602/optimism-habit-worth-making) and this is great news! Because optimism, just like any habit, can be acquired through practice!
And if you think that it's going to be hard work, think again! It's really just as simple as being mindful. Being mindful of your behavior, of how you respond to things, and of how you think about things. And focus on what gives you a good feeling. Be it a thought or something more concrete.
It's that simple! You can start from these very sentences you're reading. Take a moment and reflect about what your thoughts are right in this very instant. If you're thinking that practicing optimism is going to be hard, or that this stuff just won't work for you... Take a step back. Notice how those thoughts are not feeling good, and that they're not helping you in any way. Take a deep breath. And now shift your focus towards something more positive. It could be the sense of joy and possibility you felt from reading that optimism is just a habit and can thus be learned. It could be your pet doing its usual stuff. Or it could be that tasty meal you enjoyed a little ago. It can be everything. As long as it gives you a sense of positivity. Focus on it. And savor it.
That simple. Rinse and repeat every time you catch yourself being a little pessimistic or angry about anything.
--Fabio Rosato, Roadologist
My number #1 piece of advice for getting me to be more positive is definitely doing the 3 grateful thoughts exercise.
When you wake up in the morning you write down 3 things that you are grateful for. One could be a micro thought such as “I am grateful for having hot coffee this morning, one could be more macro such as “I am grateful that I have a roof over my head” and one could be related to a person.
All in all you want to practice it every day. Best is to write it down. When I started doing that it really changed my daily perspective and made me realize how privileged I am to have the beautiful life I am leading.
We always want more, but it’s way more important to focus on what you have. That will get you true happiness.
--Anja Lill, My Laptop Home
One can be more optimistic by embracing gratitude. Even on days when the sun doesn't seem to be shining, if one is able to find gratitude for the small things, it will help the mind shift its thinking. If the focus is always on the not-so-great things, one may miss the silver lining. If you begin to train your mind by finding three thankful things daily, you will begin to notice things that you did not before. Take it a step further and make one of those thankful things related to the situation that has you down by reversing the negative into a positive. You will be surprised how your outlook begins to change.
--Renair Amin, DMin., Pink Love Wellness
Avoid comparing to do a comparison with others makes you optimistic. It is easy to be envious of success or happiness, but this can often lead to purely negative thinking and damage the personality. Avoiding the comparison keeps you happy and makes you more optimistic. Focussing on your life and success makes you more optimistic compared to comparing yourself with others.
Someone has more money or get good grades or jobs, but you should remember that there’s always someone who has it worse. Avoiding the negative comparisons and focus on your success makes you more optimistic.
--CJ Xia, Boster Biological Technology
LISTEN TO YOUR FAVORITE SONG
Whether you are stressed, upset, broken, or mad, music has the ultimate power to flip your mood instantly. You know what your favorite song is, the one that makes you energetic and joyous. Studies show that music plays an important role in reducing stress and anxiety alongside allowing your body to recover from stress faster. So, go ahead and play your jam and think about the brighter side of life. Think about the positive outcomes as a result of your certain actions or thoughts and bring your fantasies to life with your positive thoughts.
--Atta Ur Rehman, Gigworker
Initially, when a a person ‘catches’ themselves feeling and/or expressing their negativity, we ask ‘how’ this view serves them (especially if it keeps showing up). Then we teach a powerful practices to deal with this, including: reframing, gratitude and growth mindset, which work amazingly well, together.
1) Reframing is a psychological technique that consists of identifying and then changing the way situations, experiences, events, ideas, and/or emotions are viewed. These situations or thoughts are challenged and then changed. So if person is pessimistic about, say, not being ‘good at anything,’ a classic reframe I might use is, ‘well, you’re excellent at being pessimistic!’ It always get a chuckle, and that breaks the ice, too.
Another example of reframing would be if a person is negative about something they said or did, we can reframe this as their having a discerning self-awareness and/or desiring excellence which shifts perspective. There are endless possibilities to reframe, and the act in itself of doing this positive change work becomes enjoyable.
2) If a negative thought takes up mental real estate, and a person has trouble moving past it, another way to evict these thoughts and replace them with positive and/or joyful thoughts is by experiencing gratitude. One way to do this is to start a gratitude journal, where you list 5 – 10 things each morning and evening to keep track of the good things in life, no matter how challenging or overwhelming life seems to be overall.. Making it a habit can have a profound effect on your entire attitude.
3) Overgeneralizing the Negative – Fixed vs. Growth Mindset
If you are someone who sees one example representing everything (ie. I failed this test, I fail all my tests) instead of seeing a ‘failure’ as a learning experience, you might be stuck in a ‘fixed mindset’, and by reframing and adopting a ‘growth mindset’ so you can start to move past this.
This mindset paradigm is the work of Stanford psychologist, Carol Dweck. In her mindset paradigm, the fixed-mindset person assumes that aspects of her character, including, among other things, her intelligence and creative ability are static. In this mindset, she cannot, nor is she driven to, change aspects of her character in a meaningful way. For her, success means perpetually proving and confirming her bias by maintaining the qualities she already has. For example, if a fixed mindset person were to score low on a test, she would respond that she was never good at the subject or that she was never a good test taker.
On the other hand, a person with a growth mindset thrives on the tension and challenge of problem solving. This person does not perceive failure as evidence of a lack of intelligence or confirming bias, but rather as a perpetual springboard to grow and stretch existing abilities. The person who feels negative mindset, can see this as being on a continuum, and see how the situation provides an opportunity for improvement and growth. Here are some examples of mindset:
I am terrible at standardized tests. I’ve never been good at them!
How can I learn to take standardized tests in a way that builds on my strengths
I can do the work, but I’m just not motivated. I am lazy.
What is a better approach to engage in this subject matter, and what are ways that I can motivate myself?
I don’t feel smart… I study and can’t seem to wrap my head around learning this content.
--Bara Sapir, CityTestPrep
Being optimistic can bring different things into your life. This helps you to survive any challenges that life brings you. Being optimistic, you can also influence people around you which can affect them in a good way. As a business owner, being optimistic in my field is very important because stress will never leave you.
As for me, the best tip to be optimistic is focusing on your success. This improves your mindset and it helps you to negate failure. Focusing on your success actually helps you to live a happy life that is free from stress. Also, focusing on your success helps you to think positively about yourself.
--April Maccario, Ask April
As someone with more pessimistic tendencies, I've found that the most useful way of overcoming my pessimism is to not let negative things impact my view of the future. Just because something disappointing has happened once, doesn't mean that it'll happen again, nor does it mean that it's a pattern of how the world works.
Instead, when something bad happens, do your best to get a practical lesson from it, and adjust your attitude. That change in attitude may be in the way of being more self-reliant, or not counting on other people coming through on their promises. But whatever the case, don't allow those negative things to define your outlook on life. At the end of the day, life is neutral - it's not out to get you, or make you feel miserable. It just is. And the more you expect it to make you feel miserable, the more reasons you will find to feel miserable. And that's neither helping you, nor helping you lead a better life.
--Velin Dragoev, Keen Fighter
I believe a huge factor is in the company you keep. Positivity (or negativity) are both contagious, and it depends on which one you’re more exposed to, just like the air you breathe.
So if you want to be more optimistic, surround yourself with people with a positive attitude in life. This isn’t saying that you should avoid negativity altogether because that won’t be possible. But by having more optimism around, you’ll learn to balance things out a lot better.
--David Meltzer, East Insurance Group
I’ve always had a positive and optimistic outlook on life but I have to admit that this year, my thoughts have become increasingly pessimistic. I think since the pandemic hit, many people are feeling the same. It’s normal to find ourselves focusing on the negatives in these challenging times but having a pessimistic outlook is only likely to make our days even darker. I found that doing something kind to help someone out, helped me create a more positive attitude. Indeed the pandemic has had devastating effects and people have suffered many losses. On the other hand, people have come together in ways that have been truly uplifting.
Therefore my primary piece of advice is to help others. Positivity creates positivity and right now I think we all need some more of that.
--Ahmed Mir, Sip Coffee House
One of the best things I have ever learned for learning how to be more optimistic is to simply learn how to be nicer to yourself. A lot of people might think that they treat themselves okay, but there are always things that we can do to be kinder to ourselves. One little trick that I do to be nicer to myself is to do things for “my future self.”
This works for me and a lot of other people because it is sometimes easier to picture yourself doing something nice for someone else, than it is to do something nice for yourself. When you do something for your future self, the mindset is much closer to doing something for someone else than for yourself.
One thing I do most regularly to be nice to my future self is make my lunch for work the night before so my future self doesn’t have to wake up early to do that. Actually, a lot of being kind to my future self involves doing whatever possible to make the mornings easier so my future self doesn’t have to wake up too early.
Getting enough sleep and doing these little things for my future self helps me to feel more positive and optimistic during the day. With the right mindset, anyone can learn how to do this can become more optimistic as a result.
--Dmitrij Zatuchin, DO OK