We didn’t write the book on optimism, but we know the guy who did.
In Always Looking Up: The Adventures of an Incurable Optimist, Michael J. Fox sets the example for living.
“Your happiness grows in direct proportion to your acceptance and in inverse proportion to your expectations,[a]cceptance doesn’t really mean you’re resigned to it. It just means acknowledging that that’s what it is.”
Now researchers are recognising the importance of such positive thinking. The New York Times profiled one such study with — depending on how you look at it — interesting results. Participants deemed pessimists, based on psychological tests, had higher death rates. Where their optimistic peers were more inclined to take better care of their health.
So, how can we become better optimists? Thankfully, the answer is unique to the individual.
Make a plan of action
Dr. Segerstrom and other researchers have found that rather than giving up and walking away from difficult situations, optimists attack problems head-on. They plan a course of action, getting advice from others and staying focused on solutions.
Build “existential resources”
Dr. Segerstrom wrote that when faced with uncontrollable stressors, optimists tend to react by building “existential resources” — for example, by looking for something good to come out of the situation or using the event to grow as a person in a positive way.
“Fake it until you make it.”
“People can learn to be more optimistic by acting as if they were more optimistic,” which means “being more engaged with and persistent in the pursuit of goals.”
The power of positive thinking
Both Dr. Segerstrom and the Mayo researchers recommend taking a few minutes at the end of each day to write down three positive things that happened that day, ending the day on an upbeat note.
Avoid negative self-talk
“In college, I would approach every exam, even those I had barely studied for, with the thought that I was going to do well. Time after time, this turned out to be a self-fulfilling prophecy.”
How do you define optimism?