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Looking to Improve Your Health? Try a Little Optimism!

When things don’t go our way, suggestions to simply “think positive!” or “look on the bright side” can come off as trite and irritating. Why even try to be optimistic when going through heartbreak, financial problems, stress, failure, and any other emotional hard balls life throws at us?
One of the difficulties of being optimistic is that we are biologically wired to focus on what is negative in order to protect ourselves. It can be much easier to identify when something is off in our lives, as it disrupts our normal routine, than it is to feel at peace when there is no problem or threat. In what social scientist Dennis Prager calls the “Missing Tile Syndrome,” human beings are more prone to see what’s absent or wrong than they are to focus on what’s present or right. So yes, there is certainly justification for a “woe is me” attitude, but still I urge you to fight that natural tendency and try out a little optimism; your soul and body may thank you!
The health benefits of having a generally positive outlook on and approach to life are well-known: longer life expectancy, higher resistance to illness, more fulfilling relationships, better work productivity, and the list goes on. Also, think of the people you know who could be called optimists. I imagine that you and others like these individuals, feel confident and valued around them, and that life is overall more pleasant in their company. The physical, mental, and social implications of optimism are far reaching and important.
Since positive thinking is so important and has many health and wellness benefits, is it possible to cultivate an attitude of optimism? Are some people just born optimists, while others are more prone to negative thoughts and attitudes? No matter whether you generally tend to be more one way or the other, there are some simple, yet powerful steps you can take in order to increase your optimism. Here are a few suggestions:

Allow Yourself to Experience Disappointment
This may initially seem counterintuitive; optimism is about being happy, right? Yes, but being optimistic doesn’t mean you are naive to to reality or deny painful emotions. In fact, I’d say that a good number of people who are generally sad or may be thought of as a “downer” are that way because they haven’t properly processed difficult experiences. Give yourself permission to grieve your losses. Neal Pasricha, author of the Webby award winning blog, “1000 Awesome Things,” said, “don’t force yourself out of the dark spots. Let them be dark, just remind yourself that there are good spots at the end.”

Use Failures and Mistakes As Learning Opportunities
One of the hallmark characteristics of an optimist is that he/she is resilient to hardship and is able to effectively recover or bounce back. Every experience can teach you a valuable lesson, and I’d venture to say that we learn more from our failures than we do from our successes. Winston Churchill is quoted as saying, “A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.”

Spend Time With The Right People
You can tell a lot about a person by whom they choose as close friends. Are the people you spend time with always complaining, insulting others, gossiping, and emphasizing all that is wrong in the world? There is certainly a lot to say about all the problems we face, and there is a time and place to voice these complaints, but chronic negative talk is exhausting and can dampen your spirit, especially if you’re already feeling low or carrying a heavy burden. Find people who energize, motivate, and inspire you. Even if you find yourself in situations with negative people that you can’t avoid (like at work), seek out a church leader, family member, or neighbor who you know you can trust as an ally.

Count Your Blessings
It’s amazing how simply identifying the positive, beautiful things in our lives can bring light to dark days. Do you have a college degree? What freedoms do you enjoy? Are you in a stable relationship? Is your body in good health? These are just a few questions to ask yourself that may yield positive results to help you realize just how good you’ve got it. Consider beginning a gratitude journal so you can remember and reflect on your blessings.

Unplug For a Bit
Reading about current events is a surefire way to be reminded of troubles in the world. I am not suggesting that you cut yourself off from reality to shield yourself from pain, but in our tech age, it’s very possible to overload your mind and spirit with bad news. If you find that you’re feeling weighed down by these influences, limit the amount of time you spend on certain websites or publications; it’s okay to tune out some of the sad stuff.

How has being optimist helped you?

What actions can you take to become more optimistic?
*If you find that dark, pessimistic thoughts are interfering with your ability to function or lead a normal life, a trained mental health professional can help you. If your feelings are overwhelming or debilitating to the point that you’ve considered suicide, seek help immediately.
About Dr. Julie Hanks, LCSW:
Dynamic self & relationship expert Dr. Julie de Azevedo Hanks, LCSW loves to make a difference for women. She owns Wasatch Family Therapy and regularly contributes to TV Shows and her advice has been featured nationally including Wall Street Journal, Parenting, Fox News, and others. Connect on Instagram, Facebook & Twitter. Her books The Burnout Cure and The Assertiveness Guide are now available. Dr. Hanks is currently accepting coaching clients.

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