Optimism: The One Quality That Will Change Your Life

In today’s world, there are overwhelming, complicated problems that result in fear -depression, stress, anxiety, violence and war. This is happening on all levels, locally and globally. In the midst of this, it is not difficult to fall into a place of despair and despondence. When many people already live with stress, anxiety, and fear, the world’s complicated landscape adds to our outlook of doom and gloom. And on a more personal level, when things in life don’t go the way we want we become resentful, frustrated or feel cheated. In all of these scenarios, suffering exists.

Yoga asks us to look inside to find more patience, presence, understanding, consciousness, calmness and kindness, all of which will ripple out and change our relationships with others and our perspective on the world around us. In Sonja Lyubomirsky’s The How of Happiness, she concludes that fifty percent of a human being's happiness level is genetically determined, ten percent is affected by life circumstances and situation, and the remaining forty percent of happiness is subject to self-control and attitude. While some of us may focus on changing our circumstances, successfully doing so would only increase or decrease our true level of happiness by ten percent. What we should focus on is the forty percent of happiness that is under our control!

One way to change your perspective of, or reaction to, your circumstances is by finding the lesson and seeing the good within each situation. Tal Ben-Shahar, PhD and expert in positive psychology, says, “things do not necessarily happen for the best, but I can choose to make the best of things that happen.” When we are faced with hardship, we have a choice. We can treat it as a purely negative experience or we can actively seek to identify and understand the lesson within it. We don’t have to be happy about every situation, but when a challenging one presents itself, we can use it as an opportunity for growth and development. To help turn things around, make a habit of finding something positive in every situation. We have all seen that even when traumatic things happen, community, love, support, and kindness surface from good people everywhere.

Cultivate an attitude of optimism. If you have a perspective that “life is hard,” “bad things always happen,” “nothing ever works out for me,” ask yourself how that is serving you. Remember, the law of attraction says “like attracts like” so if you are constantly thinking negatively, that is exactly what you are attracting!

Bert and John Jacobs, founders of the Life is Good company, say that optimism is not just irrational cheerfulness or blind positivity, it is a powerful strategy for accomplishing goals and living a fulfilling life. They say “that acknowledging obstacles and opportunities – but focusing on the opportunities – optimism enables us to explore the world with open arms and an eye toward solutions, progress, and growth. It also makes life a hell of a lot more fun.” The choice to focus on the good opens our minds to infinite possibilities.

Over the past 20 years, scientific research has validated the benefits of optimism and has found a strong link between optimism and increased physical and mental health, greater resilience in the face of stress and adversity, and a higher quality of life. MRI studies conducted by Tali Sharot and colleagues at New York University showed that a “glass half-full optimism may not only make us happier, but also give us drive to achieve our goals in life. In turn, by simply focusing on negative predictions of the future will surely impair our lives.”

Yoga philosophy honors the good and bad, light and dark within us, and out in the world. We would never know how amazing the light can be if we didn’t acknowledge the dark. However, it is our responsibility to expand the light and continue to cultivate good in ourselves and let that ripple out into the world. By filling ourselves with good thoughts and positivity, we will affect those around us. As overwhelming as it may seem, choosing optimism will change your life.

Here are 4 simple ways to increase your optimism:

1. Acknowledge Your Blessings

Each day, think of three things for which you are grateful. Cultivating gratitude reminds us of the good things in our life and how much we already have. Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love, suggests writing down your happiest moment of each day, no matter how small. Keep this in a journal and notice what brings joy to your life.

2. True Compliments

Once a day, give someone a genuine compliment. When you compliment people, it makes them feel good. Even better, it makes you feel good. Also become aware of compliments that others give you and how it makes you feel. Can you give and receive kinds words openly and thoughtfully?

3. Seek out GOOD News

Instead of only focusing on the news and media that is reporting the bad things that are happening in the world, seek out, read, and watch news stories that spread goodness, cheer, community, love, and kindness. They are out there! The best place to find them is in social media or on the Internet. Just Google “good news stories” and you will get a whole list of positive stories to uplift your spirits!

4. Change Your Choice of Words.

John Jacobs says, instead of saying or thinking, “have to” change it to “get to.” For example, instead of saying “I have to pay my bills,” say “I get to pay my bills because I have a roof over my head.” Just this small change in your words and thought will change your focus to the positive from the ongoing thought of all we believe we have to do.