How to Be More Optimistic

Perspective is everything, and you can learn to change a negative outlook.

Reviewed by Patricia A. Farrell, PhD on January 15, 2015
From the WebMD Archives

Think happy thoughts. Find the silver lining. Look on the bright side.

Rolling your eyes yet? Alexandra Hruz is. She's a 27-year-old self-proclaimed pessimist who lives in Chattanooga, TN. "When people are overly optimistic, it's much easier to be let down by circumstances," she says. "I don't think the world is going to end tomorrow, but I also don't like to hang my hopes on things working out on their own, simply by the power of positive thinking."

But experts say positive thinking has serious benefits that go beyond a perky attitude. According to a recent study from the University of Pittsburgh, women who expect good things to happen have a 30% lower risk for heart disease.

Optimism was also linked to a lower risk of stroke in a University of Michigan study. And a study in the Canadian Medical Association Journal found that as they age, optimists tend to get fewer disabilities and live longer than pessimists.

If you're a pessimist, you can still change your view. "Pessimism is a learned behavior, which means anyone can also learn to be optimistic," says Elizabeth Lombardo, PhD, author of A Happy You: Your Ultimate Prescription for Happiness. "It's a skill you can teach yourself." Here's how:


Reframe your frustrations. Researchers at the University of Kent in England found that people who strived to see the positive side of things that went wrong -- rather than venting to friends about what went wrong, or blaming themselves for small failures -- were happier and more satisfied at the end of the day.

"If you didn't get that promotion or you failed an exam or a relationship disintegrated, what can you learn from it? Failure can be a huge gift," Lombardo says.

Just say "om." Recent research suggests that people who meditate daily have more positive emotions than those who don't. Mindful meditation works just as well, says Richard O'Connor, PhD, author of Rewire: Change Your Brain to Break Bad Habits, Overcome Addictions, Conquer Self-Destructive Behavior. Savor positive moments -- notice a pretty flower or get an ice cream with your kids, for examples. That helps train your brain to observe more good things.

Make a happy list. Every evening, write down three or four great things that happened that day. A recent study in the Journal of Research in Personality found that writing about positive experiences for just 3 straight days has lasting effects on mood.

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AHA Journals: "Optimism, Cynical Hostility, and Incident Coronary Heart Disease and Mortality in the Women’s Health Initiative" and "Dispositional Optimism Protects Older Adults From Stroke."

Canadian Medical Association Journal: "Enjoyment of life and declining physical function at older ages: a longitudinal cohort study."

Science Daily: "Positive reframing, acceptance and humor are the most effective coping strategies."

Journal of Personality and Social Psychology: "Open Hearts Build Lives: Positive Emotions, Induced Through Loving-Kindness Meditation, Build Consequential Personal Resources" and "The health benefits of writing about intensely positive experiences."

Psychology Today: "All About Pessimism."

Elizabeth Lombardo, PhD, author, A Happy You: Your Ultimate Prescription for Happiness.

Alexandra Hruz, 27, Chattanooga, Tenn.

Richard O'Connor, PhD, author of Rewire: Change Your Brain to Break Bad Habits, Overcome Addictions, Conquer Self-Destructive Behavior.

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