How can I be more optimistic?

A shimmering green glow in the sky casts a rainbow shape, illuminating the earth below.
Aurora Borealis lights up the sky.

Learn to be more optimistic

Developing an optimistic attitude gives you a more positive outlook on life. It is a key aspect to good health. Asking the question: “how can I be more optimistic?” is a good start. Yet around 18,000 people a month worldwide ask: “how can I not be depressed?” This is a negative goal as it tells you how to not do something. So, start by reframing your question into the positive format: “how can I be more optimistic?”

We know that depression has a debilitating cycle of being locked into a negative way of thinking about things and it is difficult to break free. When things have settled, it is important to try to be compassionate with our selves, to learn to be more optimistic in small but important ways, and to look at things in a new light.

Define optimism

Optimism is an attitude and expectation that many more good things will happen than bad. Someone with an optimistic attitude is hopeful and looks forward to a positive outcome in most situations. When things go wrong, optimists will find a positive element in the situation, or explain it in a positive way without being harsh on themselves. Having said that, it is not so black and white; optimism and pessimism exist at extremes of a scale and we all have varying degrees of each trait.

The way we generally explain the things that happen in our lives is known as ‘explanatory style’ (Seligman). When things go wrong, someone strong on the optimism scale will tend to explain the causes as temporary, specific things that are external. On the other hand, someone strong on the pessimism scale will tend to explain things in global terms, view them as permanent and as belonging to them (internal – we caused them to happen or it is something negative about ourselves that was the reason for it happening).

For example, we didn’t get that job at interview. An optimist would see this as a temporary setback related to that once instance only. On the other hand, a pessimist may dwell on the negative factors surrounding it and see it as a more enduring situation. This could mean they become less positive about other things happening in their lives and may think less of themselves in a general sense, and also less hopeful about getting the next job.

Learned optimism

The good news is that optimism can be learned. One thing we can do is to learn a more optimistic explanatory style to use when things don’t go to plan. When things go wrong, ask: “is it just me? Is it everything? Is it all of the time? (Reivich). If you answered ‘no’ to any one of these questions, start with that aspect. Really explore that area and find examples of other people who have had the same or a similar experience. Find examples of other things you do well. Find examples of times when have done well (in an interview, with getting a job). Then work on seeing the incident in a more positive light.

Be kind and compassionate with yourself, forgive and accept yourself. We all make mistakes, we are not meant to be perfect. Instead, treat any mistakes as learning experiences and seek feedback from them. Ask ‘what learning is there for me in this? What will I do differently next time? Remember, no one is perfect, nothing happens ‘all the time’ (apart from sunrise/sunset, day/night, sun/moon, etc.) and it’s not ‘just me’.

Optimism quotes

Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened (Dr Seuss).

A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty (Winston Churchill).

Ring the bells that still can ring,

forget your perfect offering.

There’s a crack in everything,

that’s how the light gets in (Leonard Cohen, Anthem).

Improving optimism

Counselling and life coaching can help you to be more optimistic. Start to notice the way you think about yourself, others and the world. Start to question and challenge yourself to see things in a different way or to take a different perspective.

Research shows that the benefits of being more optimistic are improved general wellbeing, better health, reduced stress, better performance and longevity.

Read more about how to be more optimistic and happy.

Contact Linda Magson, Sydney counsellor and life coach, on how to be more optimistic.