Optimism is good for you. It’s good for your health. It can nurture friendships and professional relationships and improve communication skills. Optimism can’t — and shouldn’t — be dictated by the economy or other exterior factors. It should come from an attitude within — positive reactions that are borne of a philosophical approach to bad news and unfortunate experiences — and like any skill, it takes time to develop.
What follows are some ways that will help teach you how to be an optimist.
Set boundaries on downers
Paul Stanley from KISS used to say that if you wanted to learn about terrible things and have your spirit crushed, turn on the news. If you wanted a good time, go to a KISS concert. And believe it or not, the man had a point.
Limit your exposure to pessimistic people and heaps upon heaps of upsetting media. The truth is that you can find both in great abundance these days, and they do nothing for your sense of optimism. Try to trim the Debbie Downers out of your life, and choose a single source for news and media and stick to it, as opposed to jumping from site to site and story to story. Doing the latter, one is bound to chronically come across awful stories that, when taken cumulatively, breed pessimism.
Smile more often
It may sound like the tritest advice imaginable, but smiles really do foster optimism. There are even some research studies that, while admittedly remain too subjective for serious scientific consideration, suggest even a “fake it till you make it” approach can actually affect your physiology as well as the physiologies of those around you.
Believe in the best possible outcome
Quite simply, start trying to cultivate a glass-half-full perspective. When reasonable, assume the best possible outcome of events, or at least focus on the most hopeful aspects of a situation. Doing so doesn’t make you someone who’s blind to reality; it just provides you with a fresh perspective.
In discussing Ronald Reagan, George Will, writing for the Washington Post, said that optimists, like Reagan, “do not deal in unrealities… [they] create realities that matter — perceptions, aspirations, allegiances.” While it’s important to face facts as they are, it’s also important to approach them in creative ways and to communicate them accordingly.
Learn to respond constructively
Insteadof latching on to the worst aspects, seek out the positives, especially when talking with friends about their personal or professional situations. Turn off knee-jerk “no” reactions, and take active steps toward realizing your goals rather than passively letting things happen to you. Do the same with your friends: When one loses a job, you can commiserate, but you can also remind them of their positive attributes as well as remind them of previous victories in their lives, ones that were redeeming and inspirational. And you can do this without being too Norman Vincent Peale (where “everything is rosy”), through the power of positive thinking.