When I was in high school, I worked at Applebee’s as a waitress. I remember one day, an older female coworker asked me, “How are you so happy all the time?” Her tone wasn’t rude – it was genuinely curious. Even still, the question caught me off guard.
At only 18 years old at the time, I couldn’t think of a particular reason for my happiness. I have a great family and I’m a generally optimistic person by nature. When I told her this, she laughed a little and said, “Oh, just wait until you get older. That optimism will go away!”
As you can see, this conversation has stuck with me for over 10 years. I’d always liked my glass-half-full mentality and it bothered me to think I might lose it in the future.
Well, I’m almost 30 now, and I’m happy to report my optimism is still going strong. I think it’s stronger than it used to be, actually.
Although it has disappeared a few times during particularly rough periods in my life, I have been able to get it back. I do think I’m optimistic by nature. But as I got older, and as the stresses of adult life started to pile up, I’ll admit it wasn’t as easy to be hopeful and happy as it used to be. My optimism now is a conscious choice that I make every single day.
I read an Einstein quote once that I really liked. He says, “There are only two ways to live your life: as though nothing is a miracle, or as though everything is a miracle.” This resonates with me because there is so much truth to it. You can either see the beauty in every situation, or you can focus on what you don’t have or don’t like. In the end, you’ll always find what you’re looking for: the bad or the good.
I believe a positive attitude is a crucial part of living a healthy life. Many studies have shown that optimistic people have better overall longevity, increased positive disease outcomes and higher pain tolerance. Optimistic people are more likely to participate in healthy lifestyle behaviors (things like better sleep, eating more veggies and improved fitness) and are also better equipped to handle trauma and stress.
Optimism has helped me greatly on my eco-friendly journey in particular. Sustainability is a topic that means a lot to me and I love writing about it and connecting with others. I’ll be honest, though: it’s really hard to read and write about the environment regularly. At one point, I was so bummed about the state of the planet, I considered giving up completely (stay tuned for a blog post about that soon). Instead of quitting, though, I improved my mindset and started searching for the good news, the meaningful progress, the passionate people out there every day working toward a common goal. This mindset switch made a huge difference in my writing and actually changed my whole blogging mission for the better.
Ok, this all sounds good. But, what if you’re not as optimistic as you’d like to be? That’s ok! We all have room for improvement in this space. The good news is that optimism is a mindset that can become a habit with regular practice. Below are 5 exercises that can help you create a more positive outlook.
Exercise #1: Keep a Gratitude Journal
Gratitude is one of the most important forces on the planet. Take a moment to acknowledge the amazing things in your life – it’s a guaranteed mood-booster.
Every morning, encourage a grateful mindset by writing down (or saying aloud) 5 things you are thankful for. They can be as complex as family and friends, or as simple as your favorite song on the radio or the blue sky that day.
Exercise #2: See the Good in Others
Start this exercise by thinking of someone in your life that you don’t really like.
Now, think of 3 things you do like about that person.
The negativity bias is a physiological concept in which our brains assign more meaning to negative or unpleasant things. This was a survival mechanism for our ancestors, but it isn’t very productive for us now. This bias is why we tend to focus on the “bad” – such as someone’s unpleasant qualities – instead of the “good.”
During this exercise, remember that no person is all good or all bad. Instead of automatically seeing the things you don’t like about someone, try to focus on a person’s positive qualities. They may be hard to find, but there’s usually something redeeming there.
Note that this exercise doesn’t only apply to people. It can be used to find the good in any situation, as well.
Exercise #3: Recognize Your Achievements
Take a moment to reflect on something (either large or small) that recently went your way.
Close your eyes and recall that feeling of achievement. Remember how your hard work paid off, how much you mean to your friends and family and how far you’ve come in your life.
Due to that pesky negativity bias mentioned above, we tend to dwell on what’s not going our way. In this exercise, combat that tendency and think about the wonderful things you’ve already achieved.
Exercise #4: Get Solutions Oriented
In contrast to #3, think of something that isn’t going your way right now. Think about why it isn’t going the way you planned.
What reasons did you give yourself? Optimistic people tend to be solutions-oriented, instead of placing blame on someone else or acting as a victim. If your first reaction is to blame someone or feel powerless, try to switch these thoughts around and put the focus back on yourself. Ask yourself, “What can I do to make this situation better?” Or, ask another tough question, “Is my attitude holding me back from what I really want?”
Exercise #5: Surround Yourself with Other Positive People
Here I go again with the quotes: “You are the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with.” I’m not sure who said that, but I heard it last week on a podcast and it made me stop and think.
Positive people tend to surround themselves with other positive people. In this exercise, think about the positive role models in your life. Are you spending enough time with them? If not, be sure you are making more time for the people who lift you up and inspire you. Better yet, call them up and let them know how much you appreciate their optimism and helpfulness.
Choosing to see the beauty in every situation can work wonders on your mental health, your level of success and your relationships. Although it’s not always easy to be optimistic, it certainly is a worthwhile journey with many, many proven benefits.
Let us know your best tips for an optimistic mindset in the comments! If you enjoyed this article, be sure to subscribe to my site on WordPress and follow along on Instagram @wildgreensunshine.