Choose to be optimistic, it feels better. — Dalai Lama XIV
Is your glass half empty or full? Are your glasses rosy or is your future shadowed by a dark cloud?
Whether you live in the best or worst of all possible worlds depends on your point of view. What we pay attention to and how we interpret it is essentially up to us. This is especially true when we think of the future.
Much is unknown about our future, leaving it largely to our imagination. In our future thinking, we may be eternal optimists imagining the perfect situation, diehard pessimists planning for the worst-case scenario, or somewhere in between.
Optimism is the characteristic of seeing the future in the best possible light and viewing oneself as having some control in achieving these good things. Optimism also seems to be related to reminiscing about the past. When we feel nostalgic, we are quite often also feeling optimistic. Being optimistic about the future is key to turning life’s lemons into lemonade rather than being left with a sour pile of fruit.
Our natural disposition plays a considerable role in our future thinking, and some of us effortlessly maintain a sunnier outlook than others. For many, though, it may not always be easy to look on the bright side.
You may be wondering why this is so important. After all, haven’t we heard that we’re better equipped to handle negative life events when we prepare for the worst (and sometimes hope for the best)? Positive psychology has unearthed some compelling findings about the benefits of optimism and how it can be cultivated.
It is no secret that optimists seem to be happier. When we generally expect good things in life, we are far more likely to be in a better mood. With optimism also comes the belief that we have some control over those good things happening. This can bring us more hope and a greater recognition of our personal agency. This might explain why optimists are often seen as cheery, even when life throws curveballs.
Optimism also is one of the characteristics most highly related to life satisfaction. When we’re optimistic, not only do we believe that the future is bright, but we have no trouble thinking of specific things to look forward to. In itself, this is fundamental to our well-being. Perhaps viewing the future as positive and ourselves as capable of creating those positive outcomes helps us take the steps that lead to a more fulfilling and meaningful life.
As if that isn’t good enough, optimism also builds our resilience against life stress and improves our health. No wonder optimists feel they have something to smile about.
Optimism can be enhanced by fairly simple means. Below are five simple ways you can boost your optimism.
- Think of your best possible self. Spend about 15 minutes thinking of and writing about having the best possible circumstances in your future. Consider your goals and dreams. Imagine that everything works out for the best. After you’ve done that, spend five minutes imagining this best possible future as vividly as you can. This exercise can improve your mood and your future outlook, especially for worriers.
- Put away the to-do list. Every evening, rather than thinking of what needs to be done the next day, focus instead on three things about tomorrow you are looking forward to. Choose one and allow yourself to experience everything you feel about it for five minutes. This can help rid you of a bad mood, emotional exhaustion, and pessimistic thinking at the end of a long day.
- Create something to look forward to. Think of ways that you can create a pleasurable experience tomorrow. These may involve activities with others, rest, and even simple, everyday pleasures such as enjoying the weather.
- Reminisce. Spending as little as five minutes thinking and writing about a pleasant memory can improve your mood and optimism for the future. Common events that make us feel nostalgic are those that connect us to people, a special place, or a special time in our lives.
- Put on sentimental music. We all have songs that can leave us feeling sentimental about the past. Choose a few songs that leave you feeling nostalgic. Track down their lyrics. Listening to a personally nostalgic song or even simply reading the song’s lyrics can boost your mood, feeling of connection to others, self-esteem, and optimism.
Littman-Ovadia, H., & Nir, D. (2014). Looking forward to tomorrow: The buffering effect of a daily optimism intervention. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 9, 122-136. doi: 10.1080/17439760.2013.853202
Peters, M. L., Flink, I. K., Boersma, K., & Linton, S. J. (2010). Manipulating optimism: Can imagining a best possible self be used to increase positive future expectancies? The Journal of Positive Psychology, 5, 204-211. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/17439761003790963
Cheung, W., Wildschut, T., Sedikides, C., Hepper, E. G., Arndt, J., & Vingerhoets, A. (2013). Back to the future: Nostalgia increases optimism. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 39, 1484-1496. doi: 10.1177/0146167213499187