Optimists sometimes get a bad rap. If you tend to be a sunny-sider, chances are you’ve been criticized for being unrealistic, impractical, a dreamer, maybe even dumb. There’s this tough-guy—and I think, defensive—response to life and its unpredictability, and that response is: Life sucks and then it’s over.
We’ve gotten the (wrong) idea that cynicism and realism go hand-in-hand, and that there’s just no room for optimism, unless we want to embarrass ourselves. Well, I disagree.
The Benefits of Positive Thinking
The Mayo Clinic reports that some of the benefits of positive thinking include:
- Increased life span
- Lower rates of depression
- Greater resistance to the common cold
- Better psychological and physical well-being
- Reduced risk of death from cardiovascular disease
Needless to say, pessimists don’t enjoy these same benefits.
What a Real Optimist Is
True optimists don’t walk around in the rain and deny that they’re getting wet. But where the pessimist sees anything from a tough exchange at work or bad traffic as yet another reason why life disappoints, the optimist sees it as an opportunity. She says, “Hmm. I wonder what can be made of, gained from, or learned from this.”
TRY IT: Think differently. When something not so great happens, and you feel your knee-jerk negativity kick in, pause and ask yourself what’s funny, curious, or interesting about the situation you’re in instead.
You Don’t Have to Be Born One
You don’t need a dyed-in-the-wool optimist. You can build your positive thinking ability like a muscle. Of course, you also have to use it.
The Mayo Clinic offers these tips for boosting positive thought:
- Identify areas to change. If you want to become more optimistic and engage in more positive thinking, first identify areas of your life that you typically think negatively about, whether it’s work, your daily commute or a relationship. Start small by focusing on one area to approach in a more positive way.
- Be open to humor. Give yourself permission to smile or laugh, especially during difficult times. When you can laugh at life, you feel less stressed.
- Follow a healthy lifestyle. Exercise at least three times a week to positively affect mood and reduce stress. Follow a healthy diet to fuel your mind and body. And learn to manage stress.
- Surround yourself with positive people. Make sure those in your life are positive, supportive people you can depend on to give helpful advice and feedback. Negative people may increase your stress levels.