Can a positive mood change your life?
Would you like to live a longer and healthier life? How about excelling at work and making more money? And what about experiencing great relationships with friends and family? In order to achieve these, you will have to first work on one crucial thing: building your optimism or zest for life!
Thousands of studies have been done about what causes anxiety and depression, but very few about what creates optimism and happiness. More recently, researchers have taken a greater interest in understanding the benefits of optimism on our mind and body. What they have learned is that optimistic people decrease their chances of developing heart disease, diabetes and cancer, and that a positive mindset will help determine who will fully recover from a serious illness both emotionally and physically (think Lance Armstrong).
They have also learned that if you educate teachers in how to teach optimism in their classrooms, tests scores rise significantly. It’s not surprising that students who believe in themselves and their future perform better. If you teach optimism in the workplace, productivity improves and employees report greater job satisfaction.
So, how do you become an optimist? Many believe it’s something you are born with; that you either “have it” or you don’t. While genetics play an important role in who we are, we have a great deal of control over who we will become. Let’s take a look at some of the character traits of an optimist and perhaps you can decide whether it is worth adopting some of these traits for yourself.
6 traits of the eternal optimist
1. Optimists “think” differently – In order to understand optimism, you must first build an awareness of how your thoughts affect your mood. You can put yourself in an unhappy mood just by replaying old conflicts you had or by thinking of all the things that can go wrong in your life (“what if” thinking). Optimistic people do not replay negative tapes in their minds and they live in the present moment rather then in a worried state about the future. Try this: Begin paying attention to the thoughts that run through your mind. Are they pleasant? Worried? Helpful? Hurtful? Some therapists suggest wearing a rubber band around your wrist and each time a negative thought pops up, snap the rubber band to remind yourself that this is NOT HELPFUL and will only lead to a negative mood.
2. Optimists have gratitude – Optimists have learned the secret of appreciating what they have vs. what they don’t have. There was an interesting study done on people who experienced tremendous monetary windfalls. At first, their outlook on life improved and they had a more positive attitude. But within one year, people went back to their original disposition, even if it was a grumpy one. They were now just rich and grumpy! Try this: Start a gratitude journal that you write in daily or a few times a week. List the things in your life you are grateful for and consider telling those you love why you are grateful for having them in your life.
3. Optimists find the silver lining – Some people think eternal optimists have lives that have never been touched by hardship or tragedy. The truth is that very happy people experience the same pain and trauma, but their positive disposition helps them bounce back more quickly Optimists are very good at finding the hidden meaning or lesson learned in their difficult experiences. Rather than focusing on just the bad, they focus on what they got out of the experience. Try this: Think of a very hard time in your life. Now that you have hindsight, what did you learn from that experience that will help you in your life today?
4. Optimists live life courageously – Eleanor Roosevelt said, “Do one thing everyday that scares you.” Sometimes you have to do the very thing you fear the most in order to develop immunity to it and feel a rise in your self-worth. Learn to control your fear rather letting it control you. Try this: Do something that is out of your comfort zone. When your anxiety and fear rise, tell yourself that this is an unpleasant feeling but it cannot harm you in any way. Doing the same thing a few times will loosen its fearful grip on you.
5. Optimists practice compassion and forgiveness – The most compassionate people are also the happiest and practicing forgiveness will lead to a more positive outlook. It is in our human nature to hold onto resentment, but it can also hurt us. Forgiveness is the key to letting go of the negative energy you are unnecessarily carrying. Try this: Find compassion for someone who has hurt you. Look deeper into the reasons why they may have acted the way they did. Try forgiving them in your own heart even if you never tell them.
6. Optimists are connected to other people and the world – Truly happy people are well-connected to others and experience the joy of great relationships. It’s not about the number of relationships you have, but your ability to nurture and maintain them. Optimists also engage in acts of kindness. Serving others increases happiness ten-fold. Try this: Consider making an anonymous contribution or getting involved in a cause that helps improve the lives of others who are less fortunate than you. It will feel great. And, that’s what optimism is all about…feeling great!
Diane Lykes is a Principal of Synergy Counseling Associates in Albany where she specializes in individual and couples counseling, educational training and clinical consultation. She can be reached at 466.3100 or firstname.lastname@example.org.