How Can You Become More Optimistic?

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Does the way we view the world make a difference to anyone but ourselves?

I have come to believe so.

Here’s a little test:

How do you view negative things that happen?

Are they happening to you? To everyone? Can you change them?

Pessimists view negative things that happen as something they inadvertently caused. They are just the way things are. What are you going to do?

Optimists, however, typically view negative events as something rare that will pass, nothing personal.

Meanwhile, if something positive happens, a pessimist will view it as nothing more than a fluke, a chance occurrence, or an unexpected coincidence.

Optimists, on the other hand, will view a positive event as something they helped to make happen, and will be able to affect in the future.

In both cases, pessimists and optimists receive what they believe.

This quick test was developed by Martin Seligman, who I was fortunate enough to study with at the University of Pennsylvania. (You can learn more about this in his book Learned Optimism.)

Seligman is the founder of positive psychology; and among the many illuminating ideas he shared that I carry with me is: “I used to believe that optimism was about the way you thought about things in the past. What I know now is that optimists are people who believe more good things will happen in the future.”

And optimists are not alone.

Optimists, it turns out, like to share their optimism. What’s more, they particularly like to be around others who share their hopeful view of the world. By confidently sharing their mutually positive outlook, optimists nourish each other, and lift each other up. And their optimism becomes contagious. Ultimately, optimists like to broaden their experiences and perspective – so that they can build upon their repertoire of positive emotions.

That is in contrast to pessimists, who tend to narrow their perspective by focusing more on negative events and emotions. The one similarity that they share with optimists is that pessimists like to be around like-minded people. So, by narrowing their experiences and perspective, pessimists tend to magnify each other’s negative view of the world.

Psychologists debate about how much of our optimistic or pessimistic view of the world we are born with and how much we develop by a certain age.

But there is positive news about how much we can change.

By becoming more self-aware of how they are responding to negative and positive events, Seligman demonstrated how pessimists can become more optimistic by distracting, disputing and distancing themselves from their negative beliefs.

According to Sonja Lyubomirsky, a professor of psychology at the University of California, Riverdale, 40 percent our happiness is in our power to change – through how we act and how we think. (She delves into many practical and scientifically proven ways to increase our happiness – including ways to practice gratitude, think positively, invest in social connections, manage stress, live in the present, and commit to our goals – in her book The How of Happiness.)

One very easy way to become more optimistic is to spend more time with optimists – and less time with pessimists.

Spending more time with people who are optimistic can enhance your view of the world – and change what is possible.

Optimists will confirm your best ideas about who you are, and who you can become.

Seek them out.

While you are doing that, avoid pessimists, nay-sayers, and critics. They’re always out there. You don’t have to search for them.

Instead, surround yourself with people who are optimistic. Their optimism will lift you up. And help you believe in the future.

Optimists make everything you do much more interesting. Certainly more fun. And they can help you open up to unlimited possibilities.

At the end of the day, it does not matter whether you believe that the glass is half empty or half full. What matters is whether you, and those you choose to surround yourself with, can fill the glass.

Shed your light on what is possible. Believe in those possibilities. And surround yourself with others who believe.

That is how you can become more optimistic – and believe that more good things will happen in the future.

And they will…because you believe.