Keep your glass half-full with practical advice from doctors, researchers, and optimistic women.
Daily life can be extremely stressful, and the unhealthy ways we often deal with that stress can lead to health problems, relationship conflicts, and even a feeling of hopelessness.
While studies have shown that optimistic people live longer and enjoy better health than pessimists, it’s important to note that optimism comes more naturally to some personality types than to others. Some of us have to work at it a little more to look on the bright side and reap those happiness benefits. So we interviewed several experts and everyday women to glean their best tips on becoming—and staying—optimistic.
1. Turn off the news
That’s not to say you should never watch the news. But you need to give yourself substantial breaks from it. So consider throwing on something else that makes you happy, whether it’s classical music or lighthearted movies on Netflix.
Dr. Sanam Hafeez, a NYC based licensed clinical psychologist, explains: “People awaken and reach for their smartphone to get news headlines. They may engage in political discussions on social media or listen to news in their car. At work, they walk in to news about their company. Then they leave and turn on the news as they head home. They may flip on the TV to catch the news before bed. No wonder they’re less optimistic! Remember, good news doesn’t get ratings … and what you choose to view will impact your mood.”
2. Surround yourself with optimists
Have you ever had lunch with a friend and felt much worse afterwards? Moods—whether they’re good or bad—can spread like wildfire. So be careful who you spend time with, and how much. Helen Odessky, Psy.D., a psychologist and author of Stop Anxiety From Stopping You, says, “Get together with the most optimistic person you know—optimism is contagious.”
Plan lunch with a bubbly friend, or get coffee with your cousin who radiates joy. Julia Pannell says her favorite way to feel optimistic is “holding hands with my hubby and just laughing together.” That sounds exactly like what the doctor prescribed. And speaking of the giggles …
3. Laugh more
Laughter releases endorphins and creates positive connections. It also just plain feels great! Christy Wayne notes, “Years ago, I was going through a particularly hard time and came across a funny drawing. It made me laugh and also encouraged me not to give up, so I kept it where I can see it.”
Fold humor into your day by listening to funny podcasts, watching your favorite comedians online, or reading humorous books and articles. You’ll find it’s harder to be a pessimist when you’re chuckling. Remember: Smile, and the world smiles with you.
4. Practice gratitude
Patty Hall says she stays optimistic by “taking the time to be thankful—in the rush of life, it’s easy to forget all the wonderful things I have to be grateful for. The minute my eyes open in the morning, I thank God for all He has planned for me this day.”
Several experts mentioned the importance of gratitude in finding and maintaining an optimistic outlook. Author and parenting coach Elaine Taylor-Kraus (CPCC, PCC) notes, “Whether you keep a daily gratitude journal or end your day sharing 3 things you’re grateful for, it’s important to stay connected with what’s important to you.”
Think about keeping a daily journal to write down what you’re thankful for, or just pop onto the For Her Facebook page every morning, where we ask women from all over respond to the question: What are you grateful for today?
5. Find your mindfulness
Mindfulness begins by noticing what you’re feeling and how your body is responding to events and people. According to therapist Lisa Bahar (LMFT, LPCC), “Practicing self-care is essential to decrease the vulnerable aspects of the mind.”
Her advice is to “increase positive events—even those that seem small—in your daily life. And try new things. When you do something positive, or something you have not done in a long time, it engages mastery, which increases positive thoughts and feelings over time. Make it a daily practice.”
Several women we polled for this article said being close to nature helps them with optimism and mindfulness. It’s not surprising, given a recent study from Stanford which found that walking outside yields measurable mental health benefits. Which leads us to…
Krista Streeter, a trainer and teacher at her local YMCA, said exercise (and leading classes) keeps her optimistic. So find an activity that doesn’t sound like a bore to you, whether it’s zumba, jogging, biking, swimming, or “toddlerography.” The point is to get moving.
Prevention magazine’s Aviva Patz says, “While previous research has linked leisure-time physical activity with better mental health … including lower levels of anxiety and depression, it’s not clear whether happier people tend to be more active or if being active makes people happy. Either way, moving for fun makes you much more likely to be in a better place mentally than your peers who don’t.”
7. Help someone else
Several women we polled said they reach out to others in order to stay positive about life. Bonnie Case relates, “I find my way back to optimism by helping someone else … maybe cooking a treat for them, taking time to visit someone who is ill, or contributing to a food bank.”
Another woman, Raquel Martinez, says she tries to do something nice for someone every day, whether it be giving a compliment or doing a good deed.
8. Let go of worry—and hold onto faith
Dr. Hafeez says, “Pessimism and worry come when we think of worst possible outcomes to situations. This leads to anxiety and feeling as if we have to control conditions–even others.”
Instead of surrendering to the impulse to micro-manage life (which is impossible, by the way), Hafeez advises: “Figure out what needs to get done and what actions you can take. Then anything else that is beyond your control, let it go. Have faith that everything will turn out fine.” So make a list of what you can do, and release the rest.
That “have faith” component Hafeez mentions is also key. Belief and hope are weapons in your arsenal which can help you overcome negativity and pessimism. Many of the optimistic women who were polled for this article said that they make time to read and memorize scripture.
Betty McKethan says, “I’m optimistic because I know that Christ goes before me, and walks by my side, no matter what. Because of His love and grace, I have faith.”
9. Spend some time on scripture
So how can you integrate more faith (and therefore less pessimism) into your everyday life? Pam Farrel says she writes inspiring quotes and verses on sticky notes, then places the verses and quotes where she can see them while getting ready for the day.
But you don’t even need a pen and paper to carry those joyful words with you, Connie Lewis Leonard points out. She tells For Her that, “memorizing, reciting, and claiming God’s promises helps me maintain hope that no matter how bad things may seem, God is in control and He will work everything out for my good.”
10. Plan (and savor) joyful moments
Dr. Hafeez encourages women to be intentional about incorporating joy into their lives. Yes, that means planning it.
She explains: “Making plans to see relatives, to see a new exhibit or movie, or to travel gets our mind moving forward towards something positive that we can be hopeful and optimistic about. Every month, plan to do three things that will bring you joy. Then go do them! Feeling excited about what is coming and talking about how fun it will be keeps us optimistic.”
Your joyful activity might be as simple as staring up at the stars on a clear evening. That’s what works for Madalyn Cano, who adds, “I like to watch the sun rise and set. I love looking at the nighttime sky. I think about the One who masterfully put this all in place, and how everything around us really works marvelously together.”