Home Lifestyle Can you train yourself to become more optimistic?

Can you train yourself to become more optimistic?

69
0
Photo credit: Melodie Jeng

Photo credit: Melodie Jeng

From Harper’s BAZAAR

How optimistic are you feeling right now? The days are longer and lighter. Parks are filled with daffodils and crocuses and perhaps, most significantly, we’ve been offered both a jab and ‘roadmap’ out of lockdown. Certain dates are inscribed into our diaries as we move tentatively to the lives we once knew. The world certainly feels brighter.

However, for some of us, this final Covid stretch may be the hardest. Spring might have a mocking quality, luring us outside, teasing us with closed beer gardens and forbidden picnics. Instead of breaking into song to greet the season of renewal, several friends are maxed out on misery. One acquaintance described “a long shadow being cast over everything.”

After a prolonged period of enforced change, restriction and uncertainty, low mood, lack of motivation or general despondency may be an accumulative feeling. Negative thoughts may also stem from specific issues: financial concerns, social isolation, ill health or bereavement. For those trapped in unhappy or abusive home environments or juggling full-time work with family responsibilities, optimism will be in scarce supply.

The definition of optimism is hopefulness, confidence about the future or success of something. Optimists see their Prosecco glass as half full not half empty but are we wired one way or the other? Is it possible to train ourselves to become more optimistic?

Research from Queen Mary University of London in 2020 on 2,800 identical and non-identical twins established sensitivity levels to positive or negative experiences were roughly half and half, 50% genetic and 50% environmental. It is possible to rewire negative thought circuits; this, after all is the basis of Positive Psychology, a field of study that supports individuals to build lives of meaning and purpose. Shadow skulkers can learn to move towards the light.

According to Carolyn Mair PhD and Behavioural Psychologist, cultivating a more cheerful disposition has many advantages including, “longer life, more successful relationships and better physical health”. She explains that “stress manifests itself as a hormone in the body which in the short term is fine but over a long period can damage the heart and other organs.” Perpetual negativity can also impair self-esteem and mar relationships with others.

So how can ruminators become radiators? Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi believed “happiness doesn’t just happen but must be prepared for and cultivated”. Here are some suggestions to improve mood.

8 ways to a more optimistic outlook:

1. Create a repertoire of positive memories

In the 1990s, an American professor called Barbara Fredrickson established the concept of ‘the upward spiral of positive actions’. Mair suggests, “Reflect on something you’ve achieved or feel proud of. It could be simple like reading an extra page or learning a new word. Write these things down. Or it might be visual record, as in photographs of good times and favourite places. Consciously remembering the positive parts of your life allows you to build a mental repertoire of resilience you can draw on when feeling low.”

2. Start a gratitude diary

The old Arabic proverb, “I complained about having no shoes until I met a man with no feet” still counts. No matter how glum we feel, it’s always worth counting our blessings. Making a habit of writing down three things to be grateful for, regardless of how small, can bring more mindfulness to everyday life and enable us to actively express gratitude for significant but forgotten things like life, health, a home and friends.

3. Imagine your best future self

Whatever life’s perceived limitations, frustrations or problems, take time to write down and imagine the ideal you. “Where would you like to be five years from now” is a common interview question. A test of vision, imagination and thereafter manifestation, it can foster a more positive mindset. Martin Seligman, the father of positive psychology, believed “Authentic happiness derives from raising the bar for yourself, not comparing yourself to others.”

4. Cut loose the negativity

Ruminating about what hasn’t gone well works to consolidate these thoughts in our memory. They becoming unwelcome guests putting a downer on ourselves, others and souring experiences. Accept that what’s happened has happened and work consciously to replace nagging thoughts with kinder, more compassionate ones.

5. Protect yourself from energy vampires

Our energy stores are precious. They run the motor of our lives. Therefore, it’s important to limit anything that may drain these reserves. Watching too much news, excess alcohol or drugs and anyone who saps or drains you, should be marked up as bad for your health and moderated or avoided altogether.

6. Do something for someone else

Constant worrying and self-absorption means you less present for friends or family. Conversely, taking time to help others, be this friends, family, neighbours or through community work, not only take you out of yourself, which can be a lonely dwelling, but will release feel good chemicals, give a sense of purpose, belonging and help keep things in perspective. Christopher Peterson, author of Pursuing The Good Life: 100 Reflections of Positive Psychology asks “How can we create a cultural legacy of happiness? Let other people matter.”

7. Walk, enjoy nature, hug a tree

Twenty minutes a day outside has the same effect as an anti-depressant and spending time in nature: gardening, foraging, bird watching or walking, can benefit mental and physical wellbeing. Ecotherapy, a formal treatment involving outdoor activities can help with mild to moderate depression while shinrin-yoku, the Japanese practice of ‘forest bathing’ is a way to destress and awaken the senses.

8. Go with the flow

Hungarian-American psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi identified the concept of flow, a highly focused mental state you enter when completely engaged with a task or activity, ideally one that is creative and engaging, not tedious or laborious. Whether its writing, taking photographs, baking, making music or reading, the ability to disappear into an activity so that we lose both sense of time and ourselves is regarded by some to be the ultimate state of happiness.

In need of some at-home inspiration? Sign up to our free weekly newsletter for skincare and self-care, the latest cultural hits to read and download, and the little luxuries that make staying in so much more satisfying.

SIGN UP

You Might Also Like

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here