Rediscover Your Optimism

By Yin Nwe Ko

In life, it’s not always easy to keep negative thoughts at bay, especially when things get tough. But did you know that being optimistic — having a positive outlook on life — can make a big difference? Being optimistic doesn’t mean ignoring problems; instead, it’s about finding the good even in difficult situations. Kimberly Reed, the author of “Optimists Always Win,” explains that optimistic people look for the best in any circumstance, expecting good things to happen. Even when faced with challenges like losing a job, optimists see a silver lining, an opportunity for something better. Optimism is not just about feeling good; it’s a mindset that can benefit your health and happiness. In this article, we’ll explore what it means to be optimistic, the characteristics of optimists, and the surprising health benefits that come with a positive outlook on life. So, let’s dive into the world of optimism and discover how it can make a positive impact on your well-being.
It can be hard not to let negativity seep into your day, especially during stressful periods of life. A dose of optimism not only makes you feel better, but it’s also good for your physical and emotional health – even if initially you need to force yourself to feel more positive. “An optimistic person is always looking for the best in any situation and expecting good things to happen,” says Kimberly Reed, “Even if something negative happens, such as the loss of a job, an optimist sees the silver lining. For example, the chance to pursue a more fulfilling career or hobby or take a much-needed break. Optimists believe their actions result in positive outcomes, that they are responsible for their own happiness, and that they can expect more good things in the future.”
If you’re an optimist, you try to look for good in every situation. “An optimist views adverse events (such as your car being broken into, redundancy, and so on) as a result of something outside of themselves,” explains Kimberly. “But, even if it’s something that happened as a result of an action they took, an optimist will always try to see what they can learn from the experience. They think of an unfortunate event as a temporary setback – not a permanent way of life. Even if something awful happens, a positive thinker believes good things will come again.”
“Optimists look on the bright side,” reveals psychologist Dr Sandra Wheatley (potentpsychology.com). “They emanate a hopeful positivity. But being optimistic doesn’t mean you go into denial and pretend everything is fine when it’s not. It’s a frame of mind where you hope for the best but prepare for the worst.”
She adds that an optimist can look at a situation squarely in the eye and plan what to do if things go wrong. “By having a contingency plan, this makes it easier to turn things around before there’s a huge problem.”
Get an optimistic mindset
“Optimists tend to share several positive characteristics that can lead to greater happiness and promote good health,” says Kimberly. An optimist:
Thinks about, reflects on, and emphasizes the good things in life
Tries not to waste time and energy on complaining when something goes wrong but focuses on what they do to change or learn from a situation
Feels that nothing can hold them back from achieving success and reaching their goals
Sees challenges and obstacles as opportunities to learn
Feels gratitude for the good bits – even in a negative situation
Has a positive attitude toward themselves and others
Is tenacious and carries on when the going gets tough
Doesn’t let one bad experience color their expectations of the future
Accepts responsibility for mistakes but doesn’t dwell on them
Is always looking for ways to make the most of any opportunities that come their
way
There’s a common assumption that optimism is the same as happiness, but that’s not the case. “While optimism can lead to greater happiness, it’s actually to do with how you view the world,” says Dr Wheatley. “Optimists experience difficulties and problems like anyone else. Being an optimist doesn’t protect you from feeling negative emotions. If something bad happens, you still feel the pain, upset, grief, betrayal, or disappointment. It’s just that an optimistic mindset helps you cope better.”
In a recent Indian study, it was shown that optimists tend to have more effective coping strategies, which helps them to feel less stressed. Pessimists, on the other hand, have a tendency to dwell on stressful feelings, which can make them feel worse.
So, what makes some people more optimistic than others? “Some people are just born naturally optimistic. It’s part of their genetic makeup,” explains Dr Wheatley.
“But your upbringing also has an impact. If you grew up in an environment where there was a focus on the positive, the likelihood is that this would have had an effect on your own attitude to life.” Likewise, research shows that if you had a parent who was pessimistic or depressed, you’re far more likely to have a pessimistic outlook on life as an adult. But ultimately, optimism is a choice, and anyone can acquire a more optimistic mindset that will help you to face life’s challenges and feel confident that you can expect positive things to happen in the future.
Health Benefits Of Being An Optimist
The latest research shows that optimism is associated with a number of physical and psychological benefits.
It’s good for your heart
In a recent US review of 15 studies that looked at 200,000 people, it was shown that optimists had a 35 per cent lower risk of developing heart disease and a 14 per cent reduced incidence of early death.
It lowers your stress hormones
A study at Concordia University, Canada, asked participants to measure their daily stress levels. Optimists were found to have lower levels of stress hormones (such as cortisol). Pessimists, who were shown to go into ‘fight or flight’ mode more frequently, triggered by negative thinking that exacerbated stress, had higher stress hormones. When cortisol remains constantly elevated, this can lead to health problems.
You’ll recover better from illness
A positive mindset can help you to cope better with disease and recover better. In a recent study, it was shown that optimists had less inflammation and recovered more quickly after a stroke than those who had a more negative outlook. Another study published in the Journal of Psychosomatic Research in 2014 showed that optimism is associated with reduced pain and symptoms after heart surgery.
You’re more likely to live longer
Optimists are more likely to live a longer life 11-15 per cent longer – and have a greater chance of reaching 85 years of age compared to those who have a more pessimistic disposition. These are the findings of a study by the Boston University School of Medicine in 2019 that followed nearly 70,000 women and 1,500 men over a time span of 10 to 30 years.
It can help you to manage pain
According to a recent review, optimists who expect positive outcomes are better able to cope with and manage pain. A positive attitude seems to help reduce the perception of pain. Whereas feeling negative, pessimistic, and depressed appears to have a more adverse effect on someone’s experience of pain; for example, they find it more difficult to manage.
It’s an antidote to depression and makes you more resilient to stress
Another study in the Natural Medicine Journal in 2017 showed that people who are optimistic consider themselves as inherently protected (not vulnerable) and think about the world as a generally good place. They tend to be happier, have a lower chance of facing depression, and manage stress more effectively. They’re more likely to practice healthy habits such as exercising, following a healthy diet, and not smoking. And they are more likely to seek help if they need it than a pessimist would.
In brief, being optimistic is not just about feeling happy all the time; it’s about looking at life in a positive way, even when faced with challenges. As Kimberly Reed and Dr Sandra Wheatley explained, optimistic people focus on the good things, learn from their experiences, and see setbacks as temporary. It’s a mindset that can be learned and cultivated, bringing numerous benefits to both physical and mental health. The research suggests that optimists have a lower risk of heart disease, lower stress levels, and better recovery from illness. They even tend to live longer and manage pain more effectively. So, while life may have its ups and downs, having an optimistic outlook can make a significant difference, helping you navigate challenges with hope and resilience. Remember, anyone can choose to be more optimistic and enjoy the positive impact it can have on their well-being.
Reference: Understanding Your Emotions 1st Edition 2023
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