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Optimism 101. Yes, it really does make a difference.

Kaarin Anderson Ryan, PhD 7.25.23

‘Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement…no pessimist ever discovered the secret of the stars, or sailed to an uncharted land, or opened a new doorway for the human spirit’. ~ Helen Keller

Looking at things through a more positive lens can be beneficial for physical and mental well-being. In a world of never-ending bad news with not only a 24-hour news cycle, but news being delivered to us through news feeds and social media, it is no wonder that people are finding it increasingly difficult to be optimistic. In addition, we are all feeling the effects of dramatic inflation with increased prices for even the most basic items at the store. In many areas we are seeing increases in crime rates and a decreased sense of personal safety. It can be very easy to get pulled into a pool of negativity an pessimism. But, you do have some control over this in the form of optimism as a learned strategy. The benefits of optimism are many, and have been proven time and again in studies across multiple fields.

By definition, optimism is the tendency to look at situations in a more favorable light and to anticipate more positive outcomes. Some people have what is considered dispositional optimism, which means that it is an inherent part of who they are. They are the people who naturally look for the bright side of things, who see the glass as half full. Alternatively, people who are more pessimistic by nature tend to emphasize the negative side of a situation, or anticipate negative outcomes.

There are many benefits for adopting a more optimistic outlook. Optimism has been linked to:

  • Reduced rates of depression
  • Increased ability to cope with tragic events such as natural disasters
  • Increased ability to cope with health-related issues
  • Self-reports of happiness
  • A positive impact on anxiety in general
  • Benefits for anxiety as it relates to chronic health issues
  • Better reports of good physical health
  • Decreased mortality in aging populations
  • Better outcomes for people with cardiovascular disease and certain types of cancer

How can you improve your own optimism

Since everyone is not a natural, dispositional optimist, we need some tools to help people who would like to improve their ability to be optimistic. You don’t have to be a natural optimist to enjoy the benefits of optimism. Luckily, because optimism has so many positive outcomes, there has been a lot of research looking into effective ways to increase optimism. To help improve optimism in your life, there are a lot of things you can do each day. For example:

  1. Daily optimism exercises to improve overall habits for positive outlook.
  2. Mindfulness exercises focused on intentional shifts in thoughts and focus.
  3. Using cognitive tools to challenge and replace negative thought patterns.
  4. Taking practical steps to increase positivity in your life experience.

Because optimism is an important tool for overall wellness and happiness, I will be devoting time to this series to help you with a variety of tools and exercises from this list to help you improve your experiences through optimistic thinking. Stay tuned for weekly tips!

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