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We live in a world that too often seems filled with negativity. Consequently, it can be difficult to maintain a positive attitude, find possibilities in the problems we face, and remain resilient despite the challenges that surround us. Yet, our optimism can be a source of hope and confidence. Optimism helps us to see our challenges as temporary and our situation as something that can be improved with time, and it reminds us that we can be a force for change.  

While optimism may seem like a “nice to have” outlook, it offers several important mental, emotional, and physical benefits. Optimism has been shown to lessen levels of stress and reduce risks of depression and anxiety. Optimistic people tend to be more productive and find their work and life more fulfilling. Additionally, optimists tend to face lower risks of heart disease, stroke, and other heart- and blood-related medical conditions. They also experience the benefits of a stronger immune system, so they tend to be sick less often.  

Some people seem to have been born optimistic, while others seem unable to see anything but negativity and spread their attitude widely. However, most of us fall along a continuum from somewhat negative to somewhat positive. Where we land may be dependent on our current mood and the problems and worries we face. We may wish that we could be more positive more of the time, but we may not be sure how to make the shift. Fortunately, there are many experience-tested and research-supported actions we can take. Here are eight to consider.   

Make smiling a habit. While smiling may take little effort, it can make us happier and more optimistic because the combination of muscles involved in smiling releases a brain chemical that makes us feel happier and more relaxed. Meanwhile, when others see our smile, they are more likely to smile in response. Consequently, we feel more connected and optimistic.  

Increase time spent with positive people. Optimism is contagious. We tend to adopt the attitudes and beliefs of the people with whom we spend most of our time. We can increase the impact when we choose to be positive in their presence. Positive people are more likely to accept, value, and encourage our positivity. Conversely, negative people are more likely to discount, devalue, and discourage any optimistic words and views. Focus on lifting others up; when we do, we are likely to feel better and more optimistic.  

Cultivate a sense of gratitude. Reflecting on the people, opportunities, and other things for which we are thankful is a powerful way to increase our optimism. Gratitude shifts our focus from what we do not have and what is lacking to what makes our lives abundant. Taking time daily to reflect, and even jot down, things for which we are grateful can begin to rewire our brains to notice and be more appreciative of the positive aspects of our lives and leave us more optimistic.  

Practice positive self-talk. Being conscious of negative thoughts is the first step in changing them. We can monitor negative thoughts and challenge and change them. Rather than “I can’t do it,” we can think “I have not done it yet, but I have overcome challenges before.” And rather than “I might fail and be embarrassed,” we might think “I may make mistakes, but I can learn from them and improve.”  

Adopt daily affirmations. Positive messages repeated daily have been shown to improve well-being, increase confidence, and reduce self-doubt. The human mind gives credibility to repetition, so when we regularly reinforce positive thoughts, intentions, and expectations, our brains pay attention and give additional weight to the meaning and implications associated with what we say. We might start with simple statements such as “I am going to succeed,” “Every day I get better and learn more,” or “The challenges I face make me stronger.”  

Identify something daily to look forward to. Anticipation of something positive can have a surprisingly powerful influence on our mood and leave us feeling less stressed. What we look forward to does not have to be grand, but it does need to be meaningful. Looking forward to even seemingly simple things like enjoying coffee with a friend, a leisurely evening walk, engaging in a favored hobby, or spending time with a good book can make a positive difference and leave us feeling more optimistic.  

Set and work toward meaningful goals. Goals by definition are optimistic. After all, they focus our attention on making progress and achieving success. Breaking goals down into manageable, incremental steps helps us to see progress and increases our confidence. Further, steps we take toward achieving our goals can give us a sense of power to create positive outcomes in our lives.  

Reframe problems and setbacks as opportunities to learn and grow. Shifting our perspective can uncover powerful strategies that might be overlooked if our focus is on the severity of our problems or the disappointment of an unsuccessful effort. Reframing our experience can remind us of the power that lies in how we choose to respond to our experiences. We cannot always control what happens to us, but we can control how we choose to respond.  

Developing a more optimistic outlook on life can take time. Setbacks can be expected, doubts will surface, and old habits will be resistant to change. What is important is to notice and celebrate progress. With time and persistence, optimism will grow and become an even greater part of who we are and prepare us to face life’s challenges with greater resilience and hope.  

Thought for the Week

In response to the uncertainty and disruption in which we find ourselves, researchers and experts say that the number one skill for survival and success in today’s environment is adaptability.

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