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How to Be More Optimistic

Medically Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, DO, MS on September 09, 2021

Research on optimism, also known as positive neuroscience or positive psychology, has become popular recently. This research covers a diverse range of topics, from the effects of altruism to how compassion and empathy impact your state of mind. 

Keeping an optimistic outlook can improve your health, help you achieve your goals, and give you the resilience to face everyday challenges. An optimistic outlook can help those struggling with anxiety and low mood. 

Ways to Feel More Optimistic

Visualization exercises. Visualization exercises are used to raise self-esteem. Mental simulation of positive scenarios can increase your optimism by giving you the confidence you need to reach your goals. 

Imagining your best self. A study that asked participants to imagine a "best possible self" showed that doing so can improve your optimism more than thinking about positive events. By constructing an ideal relational, personal, and professional context, levels of optimism in participants remained high regardless of their moods. 

Exercising and staying active. Studies show that people who are highly active are more optimistic and have fewer pessimistic traits than people with less active lifestyles. People who are highly active have been shown to have less anxiety and higher confidence levels.

Education. People who have pursued higher education tend to have higher levels of optimism than those who haven't. Taking a class or enrolling in a degree program could improve your outlook.

The Effects of Pessimism

While staying optimistic benefits your well-being, a pessimistic outlook can do the opposite. One study found that pessimism in your twenties can negatively affect your physical health from middle age onward. 

Psychology of pessimism. The way you explain events that have happened to you—your explanatory style—can indicate pessimistic behavior. Three types of explanatory styles are globality versus specificity, stability versus instability, and internality versus externality.

Looking into these explanatory styles further may help you understand the effects that pessimism can have on your long-term well-being:

  • Perceiving an event through globality may lead you to think that everything will be negatively affected by the event, whereas specificity allows you to understand that the event does not affect quality of life. 
  • A stable outlook sees an issue as a long-term problem, while an unstable understanding sees the issue as a stand-alone event. 
  • With an internal mindset, the blame for a problem is placed on oneself, but an external explanatory style sees the problem as stemming from surroundings. 

People who use global, stable, and internal ways of explaining the things that happen to them tend to have:

Having pessimistic tendencies can weaken your immune system and prompt more frequent visits to the doctor. 

The Effects of Optimism

Compared to people who express pessimism, people who have optimistic outlooks and expectations tend to have better responses to traumatic events and are better able to process them. 

Coping, which is the way people interact with their environment, becomes easier if you are optimistic. Optimism promotes smoother adjustments when faced with stressful events and demands by changing people's behaviors and their understanding of the world. If you are having trouble being optimistic or are having any feelings of depression, talk to your doctor or a counselor. 

WebMD Feature

Sources

SOURCES:

Authentic Happiness: “Positive Neuroscience.”

Journal of Behaviour Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry: “Become more optimistic by imagining a best possible self: Effects of a two week intervention.” 

Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization: “Longer, more optimistic, lives: Historic optimism and life expectancy in the United States.” 

Journal of Personality and Social Psychology: “Pessimistic explanatory style is a risk factor for physical illness: A thirty-five-year longitudinal study.”

Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology: “Exercise and Optimism: Are Highly Active Individuals More Optimistic?”‌ National Institute of Mental Health: “TAKING CONTROL OF YOUR MENTAL HEALTH: Tips for Talking With Your Health Care Provider”

Personality and Social Psychology Review: “Dispositional Optimism and Coping: A Meta-Analytic Review.” 

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