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Choosing Optimism

My daughter and I on the Tampa Riverwalk

While it's hard to believe, my daughter turns 18 this year. Over the weekend, we were in Tampa, walking along the Riverwalk in the evening. As we strolled along on that beautiful evening, we got on the topic of attitudes, specifically optimism and pessimism. We stopped walking and stood there near the water. I looked her in the eye and gave her advice that every person should hear.

I told her that whether or not she is an optimist or a pessimist is all a choice. 

Then I went on to explain to her that while there is a small genetic component, it's largely something that we choose and work at. Those who are pessimists get into a habit of being pessimists. They train themselves to see the bad in everything (or to not notice the good). It's a choice they make over and over and it becomes like second nature, a part of who they are. It's the same thing with optimism. Those who are optimists make a choice to be and look for the good in things and believe good things will happen.

Which route you choose, as I told her, will greatly impact the quality of your life.

I've been with my husband (her father) for 30 years now (our 27th wedding anniversary is next week). In the beginning, my husband was quite pessimistic (as is his father). He has learned over the years (through things I've shared with him) to become more optimistic. It's something he has consciously worked at, and he's come a long way with it. I've seen the transformation and it's great! Then there is me - I'm a total optimist (which is obvious to anyone who spends much time with me).

Being an optimist improves your quality of life and makes you a happier person. There are other benefits of being an optimist. Here are just a few published studies on the issue:

  • American Journal of Preventative Medicine - Being optimistic increases the likelihood of healthy aging.
  • Cognitive, Affective & Behavioral Neuroscience - Optimism is a personality trait strongly associated with physical and psychological well-being. Optimistic individuals hold positive expectancies for their future, have better physical and psychological health, recover faster after heart disease and other ailments, and cope more effectively with stress and anxiety.
  • Nutrition Journal - Optimism was associated with greater overall diet quality and higher consumption of fruit and vegetables, seafood, whole grains, fats, dairy and meat substitutes, legumes, non-salted oleaginous fruits. Optimism was associated with better overall diet quality and less snacking.
  • American Journal of Epidemiology - Mounting evidence indicates that there are specific associations between higher levels of optimism and healthier behaviors, reduced risk of chronic diseases, and lower mortality. 

Being optimistic makes you a happier person, and the research shows that it also may help you be a healthier person. Being optimistic improves the quality of life because you enjoy life more. While my daughter is just going into adulthood and I want to make sure she understands that it's completely up to her if she is a pessimist or optimist, it's never too late for people to make that switch. If you haven't been an optimist your whole life you absolutely can still become one.

There are numerous things you can do to become more optimistic. Here are a few:

  • Take up meditation. I've been a daily meditator for well over a decade and there is a lot of research on the many health benefits of it. The calmness it brings to your mind, which leads to optimism, is one of the major perks of meditation. (Read about my meditation practice from a post a wrote four years ago).
  • Practice gratitude. Each day, name things you are grateful for. It doesn't matter how small or big they are, just things that you are grateful for. Each night at dinner, I always go around the table and ask each person what their "high" for the day was. I do this to help them see that even on a day that seemed like nothing happened, there are still things to be grateful for that happened. Maybe it's a beautiful breeze, a bird singing, a great lunch, a joke, etc. Whatever it is, there are always things in each day to be grateful for. Doing this trains your mind to find the good, rather than focus on the negative. There is also numerous research studies reporting how keeping a gratitude journal helps change your mindset and make you more positive and improve your quality of life.
  • Remove constant negativity from your life (or change it). This includes turning off the news.  It spews negativity all day long, and if you listen to that and fill your head with negativity then it makes you more of a pessimist. If you surround yourself with negativity (negativity people, TV, music, etc.) then you are filling your mind with that. Watch what you consume, which goes beyond food - what we read, watch and listen to is also consumption.
  • Learn to pick your battles, not everything is worth getting upset over. When things happen (especially minor things) that you don't care for, don't hold onto it. Acknowledge the feeling and let it go, passing by like a dark cloud in the sky. There's a saying that I like to live by, which is "let go or be dragged." This Zen saying carries incredible power when you learn to use it. Simply let go so that things to weigh you down.
  • Practice mindfulness, which is focusing on the here and now. Happiness is only found in the present moment. When we remain mindful it's much easier to be optimistic. When there are issues, focus on solutions instead of problems. Don't focus on things that happened in the past or what might happen in the future. Focus on the here and now.

Also, realize that if you are a pessimist you won't become an optimist overnight. This will take some time, but if you work at it you will see and feel results. Over time, you will become more of an optimist. Be gentle with yourself if you find pessimism rising. Recognize that it's happening and make a conscious choice to change the thought to be more optimistic. The more you practice this, the easier it becomes.

Like I finished my conversation with my daughter within - change your thoughts, change your life. 

We make the choice daily whether we will be an optimist or a pessimist. If you want to be a happier person and have a higher quality of life, focus on being an optimist. I'm optimistic that you can do it! ;)



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