Cultivating optimism shares similarities with expressing gratitude. Both practices require you to focus on the positive aspects of any given situation. Optimistic people celebrate the past and present, while also anticipating a fulfilling future.
“A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.”
– Winston Churchill
Each of us may define optimism a bit differently. You may be optimistic in one context, yet pessimistic in another. Some researchers define optimism as a global expectation of a positive future.
Other experts describe optimism as the way we explain outcomes. When faced with a negative event, a pessimist will view it as internal, permanent and universal (i.e., “This always happens to me; it’s my fault”). In contrast, an optimist attributes the event to something external, transient and specific (i.e., “This isn’t my fault; it’s a temporary glitch”).
Being Your Best Possible Selves
Psychologist Sonja Lyubomirsky offers the following exercise, called “Your Best Possible Selves,” in The How of Happiness: A New Approach to Getting the Life You Want (Penguin Books, 2007): For 20 minutes, write a narrative description of your best possible future selves in multiple life domains.
Channeling your thoughts in this direction will boost your mood and motivation. Highly structured, systematic and rule-bound, the exercise prompts you to organize, integrate and analyze your thoughts in ways that fantasizing doesn’t allow. Writing about your dreams provides clarity and a renewed sense of control.
You must regularly engage in this activity to develop optimistic thinking habits. As with sports and career mastery, optimism requires intention, practice and persistence.
Being optimistic involves a choice about how you see the world. It doesn’t mean denying the negative or avoiding unfavorable information. Pragmatic optimists are just as likely to be vigilant about risks and threats.
They’re also keenly aware that positive outcomes depend on the wholeheartedness of their efforts. They don’t wait around for good things to happen.
If you’re struggling with dissatisfaction, pessimism or just not happy with the way your life is unfolding, consider working with a professional coach. In the work I do with clients, I’ve seen how coaching can open the doors to happiness, possibility and success. You owe it to yourself; as they say on TV: You’re worth it!