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Optimism: 14 Ways to See the Glass Half Full

Amanda Page Jan 25th, 2013 (updated Sep 26th, 2013)
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New research has emerged linking optimism to improved cardiovascular health, reduced risk of stroke, and even swift financial recovery. But what about those who tend toward the pessimistic side? While we may not have much control over the events that happen to us, we do have control over our attitude. Here are some ways to nurture a more optimistic outlook on life.

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Take a breather
Take a breather

It’s easy to get caught up in the stress of a moment and let it control you.  If you catch yourself feeling down, stressed, or angry, take a moment to take a deep breath and accept your current situation.  Know that what’s done is done, and what matters now is how you handle the situation so that it doesn’t consume you. 

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Lean on social media
Lean on social media

Social media has become a huge part of our lives and it can generate unique ways of affecting our mental health.  Try creating an optimism board on Pinterest where you can pin inspirational quotes and photos of inspiring places.  Twitter has a never ending stream of inspirational #quotes. And Facebook allows you to follow inspirational pages that will fill your newsfeed with empowering stories. 

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Sing a new tune
Sing a new tune

If you’re a natural pessimist, this one can take time and practice before it comes naturally. When you catch yourself forming negative thoughts, remind yourself to be more constructive.  Anger is natural but ruminating is more often than not pointless.  Make a conscious decision to think more positively and be less negative towards yourself and others.  Realizing that optimism is always a choice can undermine negative thinking.  

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Smile
Smile

This one has double the benefits!  First of all, smiling is contagious.  Studies have shown that people can’t help but smile when those around them are smiling.  A complete stranger may not know anything about you other than the look on your face, and a big smile is a great impression to leave them with.  Additionally, recent studies show that smiling during stressful situations can help lower heart rate levels and lead to more positive emotions. 

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Look in unexpected places
Look in unexpected places

Sometimes noticing and appreciating beauty in unexpected places can go a long way toward lifting our spirits.  For instance, take some time to really “see” the beauty that surrounds you on a typical day.  Maybe it’s that garden you pass on your way to work, the sound of the wind in the trees, or the smell of coffee. If you aren’t taking pleasure from such things, you’re missing many small opportunities to enjoy your day. 

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Observe yourself
Observe yourself

Try a different form of meditation - take a few minutes each to day to observe your uncensored thoughts without judging yourself.  It’s normal to have negative thoughts, but it’s how you react to them that determines optimism or pessimism.  Taking time to step back and observe your thoughts – both negative and positive- will eventually detach you from them and guide your focus to the wisdom and clarity behind your thinking. 

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Help others
Help others

Naturally, a lot of our mental energy is spent focusing on ourselves.  So much of this focus tends to be negative. Constant focus on personal flaws and fretting about potential gains can wreak havoc on our stress levels.  Helping others redirects the often self-deprecating mental energy. There is a lot of research suggesting that volunteering helps people feel better about themselves.

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Don't take things so seriously
Don't take things so seriously

Like smiling, laughing is contagious.  Your laughter will likely spread to others, resulting in more group happiness. (Think about the mass pleasure caused by a viral YouTube video.) Additionally, studies have shown that weekly exposure to humor can result in enhanced happiness and life satisfaction, relaxation, and stress relief.  This is, in part, because laughing reduces stress hormones, such as cortisol and adrenaline.

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Count your blessings
Count your blessings

Sometimes we fail to recognize the good things in our lives because we are so focused on negativity.  If things are really bad, start with being grateful that you are alive, able to breathe.  Then sit down with pen and paper and actually write a list of all the things you are grateful for, what makes you smile, and describe happiest memories.  It’s amazing how positive thoughts can push negative ones to the back of our minds, and vice versa. 

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Surround yourself with positivity
Surround yourself with positivity

Identify negative people in your life that have a consistently depressed outlook, or who complain a lot, and avoid them – especially if you are struggling to be more positive.  Surround yourself with people that lift your spirit and make you feel empowered to be better every day.  

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Find the silver lining
Find the silver lining

Challenge your pessimism by finding the good in every situation.  Flight is canceled? Use the extra time to call old friends, or finish a project.  Car is in the shop?  Now’s a great opportunity to try biking to work, or stay home and take care of those neglected household chores.  

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Spend time in nature
Spend time in nature

Taking in the natural wonders of the world is free and can improve your physical and mental health. Studies have shown that people who live within .6 miles of a park or forest experience less anxiety, depression, and ADD/ADHD than those with limited access to nature.  No matter what the season, nature will provide a peaceful soundtrack, beautiful scenery, and fresh air to help lift your spirits.  

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Listen to good news
Listen to good news

The media is often accused of battering our world view with tragic and frightening news. To counteract this, keep up with the positive news stories happening everyday.  For every bad story, there is an equally uplifting story.  You just need to find them and give them as much thought as you do the upsetting stories.  

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Exercise, exercise, exercise
Exercise, exercise, exercise

Not surprisingly, exercise improves your mood, releases stress, and will likely improve your outlook on life.  And it isn’t necessary to be overly ambitious.  Just 30 minutes of exercise three times a week is enough to have a positive impact on your mood and your health.