In a harsh world that, if you read the news, can seem devoid of humanity at times, negativity can drive us to think in gloomy patterns and expect the worst. These negative thoughts can fuel stress, anger and depression — and even push some to extreme action. It can also get in the way of developing or maintaining good relationships and mute feelings of hope for the future that we may otherwise have. But did you know that it's not out of your hands as much as you might think? We can train ourselves to be more optimistic. Here's how.
People who tend to be more optimistic may have less cortisol, a stress hormone, and more serotonin in their bodies. And this is significant. It's also something that's within our influence. We may therefore be able to change our outlook on life by simply getting our laugh on to stimulate those important hormones we may be short on. Studies have shown that laughter decreases levels of cortisol while increasing levels of serotonin, dopamine and endorphins. Ok, ok, this may be easier said than done. So what if you're not feeling positive but you need to get laughing?
Aim for the big belly laugh. Try things that give others huge laughs because even if you fail, you may get to a good chuckle, and that's a start. Watch a comedy or hang out with the grandkids. When is the last time you swung in a swing at the park? Or skipped down the sidewalk? Or played catch with a friend? Sometimes we all have to fake it until we make it and laughter is definitely an example of that. Aim to laugh every day. More than once if you can.
Having a positive attitude may start with believing that good people still exist. And that's obvious if you yourself are being the good you want to see in the world. You can be the change you’d like to see in the world by paying forward kindnesses you’ve received. Do something nice for someone without expecting anything in return. Buy someone coffee, pay for a meal, pay off someone's utility bill. Help someone carry groceries inside. Big or small acts of kindness can have a ripple effect of optimism and the bonus is that the world is made better for you being in it.
If you're getting bombarded with bad news in the world then face something personally challenging like a relationship breakup, job loss or medical diagnosis, it's easy to feel beaten down and like the world is out to get you (even when you know it's not). One of the best days to face complicated personal news is to take stock. Take out a journal or piece of paper and write down what you're thankful for, whether it’s your home, pets, friends, or even good weather or the water coming from the faucet — none of this is a given. They're all gifts. And focusing on positive elements as a backdrop to the challenging or negative things keeps them in perspective and helps prevent us from spiraling into depression or fatalism. This clarity can also help us move toward solutions when we need it most.
Rather than engaging in just any self-care, consider quiet, isolated self-care. It's important to take time out to refuel and recharge. It doesn't require spending a lot of money or doing things others want to do. It's all about you! Find a place to escape, meditate and turn on your favorite tunes. Spend time mentally letting negative thoughts drain out. Dance it away or soak it away, whatever you need, but let the light shine by finding it in yourself and letting it out. This momentary refreshment may help revitalize optimism for the future and give you the warmth of being your own best caregiver to draw on going forward.
The fear of tomorrow can be overbearing, sometimes zapping away the happiness we deserve here and now. We need to remember now, this moment is all we have for sure. If being optimistic about the future is overwhelming, then grounding ourselves in the moment might be the solution. If we're basically okay right this second then that's something to rest on. Basically ok is enough. Too often when we've become negative in our thinking it's because we're borrowing trouble from a hypothetical future that may never come to pass. Staying grounded in this moment can help us remember that we don't know what's going to happen later. Let go of fear, worry and negativity, and live in the abundance of this moment.
Optimism is built through habits and maintenance, and many of these things are the habits that most optimistic people share. That doesn't mean it's easy at first, but it does pay off as we learn to change our outlook and eventually, we feel happier as a result. It may be that optimism is a matter of perception, but we believe what we perceive so let's take control of it and make ourselves happier in the process.
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