It can be difficult to feel optimistic when life isn’t going your way but there are ways to turn your day, and your attitude around.
Take our personality test to see if you’re a natural optimist, then read on for our guide on thinking of the glass as half full.
How positive are you? Take our optimism personality test to find out
How to learn optimism and become more positive
- Think silly! If you find that you’re taking life too seriously, think about the opposite outcome for a situation that you’ve been making into a catastrophe. See if you can imagine the most absurd possibilities. What if you get a promotion to CEO? Went on a life-changing trip around the world? Met the love of your life? Playing around like this will help you to give you a sense of control over your thoughts and to break the overly-negative cycle you’re battling with.
- Move on. When faced with a challenge, look at your problem as a specific event, rather than something that’s connected to all other events or indicative of a pattern present in all areas of your life. Remember that your setbacks are only temporary too. All you can do is to deal with it as well as you can, then move on!
- Do your best. When things go wrong, it’s helpful to recognise that some factors are beyond your control and that there are external forces at play. Don’t let it bog you down. Focus on what you can change, not what you can’t, as you continue to set your sights on achieving your goals.
What are the health benefits of being an optimist?
Research suggests that optimists are more likely to experience high levels of mental and physical wellbeing. They are more confident, sociable, successful in work and even have a longer life expectancy.
While some people inherently expect things to turn out for the best, not everyone possesses a naturally rosy outlook on life. If you’re far more likely to focus on what could (and does) go wrong, it’s likely you’re a more pessimistic person.
This might be your defence mechanism – having low expectations means they’re usually met! But researchers have found that a gloomier view of the world can put you at higher risk of experiencing depression and personal setbacks.
Pessimism doesn’t have to be permanent though – once you know how, you can choose to trigger your inner optimist at any time.
Just how optimistic are you? The three Ps
The key to understanding how optimistic you are lies in how you think about the cause of events as they happen in your life. Professor Martin Seligman, author of Learned Optimism, calls this your explanatory style.
Everyone’s individual style determines how they view the world and how we explain the good and bad things that happen to us. Seligman outlines three key areas where explanatory style differs between optimists and pessimists:
While an optimist doesn’t blame a negative event on themselves, pessimists take it personally. The reverse is true for positive events – optimists are quicker to attribute it to themselves, while pessimists believe that it’s due to something external.
Optimists usually view setbacks as temporary roadblocks. Pessimists are more likely to see these barriers as permanent and destiny-defining.
Pessimistic people over-generalise failure in one domain to mean failure in all. Optimists don’t. Conversely, optimists allow a positive event to brighten their whole life, rather than compartmentalise it as a pessimist would.
How to become an optimist
It only takes a few small steps to adjust your attitude. Seligman’s body of work reveals that the optimistic traits of viewing setbacks as external, temporary and specific are all teachable – anyone can learn to become an optimist if they put their mind to it.
Read more related articles:
- How resilient are you? Find out with our personality test
- How to use colour therapy to boost your wellbeing
- Are you an introvert or an extrovert?
A balanced perspective combining the best of both worlds can be achieved by cultivating a sense of ‘realistic optimism’.
This approach will allow you to expect the best while regularly touching base with reality, keeping your perspective positive and your sights set high, all while supporting yourself to cope by considering what you’ll do if things don’t go according to plan.
No matter how hard you try, it’s impossible to control everything that happens to you in life. However, you can control how you react to it. This is an essential skill to cultivate to live your life well. Whether you focus on the cloud or the silver lining will shape the way you see the world.
This article was first published in In The Moment Magazine issue 5.
Photos by Eye for Ebony, Priscilla Du Preez and Tyler Nix on Unsplash