By Jeanne Reynolds
I’m a fairly focused, goal-oriented person. And although I don’t take myself too seriously, I do take what I do seriously. So I’m not one of those people walking around with a big smile all the time (and I so hate it when someone, especially a stranger, says “Smile! It can’t be that bad.” I mean really, how the heck would you know whether it is or not?)
That doesn’t mean I’m not happy most of the time. Even joyous occasionally. Able to see the humor in most situations. And overall, pretty optimistic. Which is great, because it’s … (drum roll, please) … National Optimism Month.
Lucky for me, optimism isn’t about walking around with a goofy grin on your face or spouting Pollyanna-ish sayings all day. Optimism is about seeing the positive in situations — you know, that glass-half-full thing.
There are plenty of good reasons to look on the bright side:
- Better health. Optimists tend to have healthier hearts, making them less prone to attacks and strokes. Being optimistic in a stressful situation can raise your immune response, increasing your ability to fight infection and disease. And we’ve all heard stories of patients who stayed positive bouncing back faster from illness and injury.
- Higher achievement. Researcher Martin Seligman found athletes and teams that are more optimistic perform better than pessimistic ones. That’s one reason some employers seek out optimists as job candidates.
- Longer life. If optimism and good health go hand-in-hand, no wonder research shows links between optimism and avoiding early death from heart disease, cancer infection and other diseases.
Even if you’re not naturally super-optimistic, there are ways to cultivate a more optimistic mindset. Try these:
- Examine your habitual thought patterns. Do you pay more attention to complaints than compliments? Often describe things with words like “always” and “never,” and tend to jump to conclusions with all the information? These are all signs of negative thinking. Techniques such as cognitive restructuring can help you learn to challenge your negative thinking and replace it with more optimistic thought patterns.
- Develop optimism-enhancing habits. Try keeping a gratitude journal (Oprah does), a coincidence journal or a vision board.
- Get outside and get moving. Exercise is proven to alleviate symptoms of depression, and completing that walk, run or tough class will feed your sense of positive accomplishment. Plus, it’s hard not to feel a sense of wonder and awe when seeing a beautiful sunrise, a shooting star on a clear night or the first brave buds of spring about to open.
- Laugh at yourself. The ability to see the humor in a situation can go a long way toward dissolving stress, disappointment or embarrassment. Add more laughter to your life with a funny page-a-day calendar or watching silly movies.
Now, ready to break out that happy dance? (And it’s OK if you can’t help smiling while you do it.)