Being Optimistic When the World Around You Isn't

It's possible to look on the bright side even when no one else is

Being optimistic can be tough when everyone around you is negative.
 Eva Bee / Ikon Images / Getty Images

Sometimes, it’s hard to be happy when you think about what’s going on in the world. It’s harder still when the people around you constantly complain about all those things that are happening. That doesn’t mean that you have to join ranks with the pessimists, though. In fact, it means it’s more important than ever to look on the bright side as much as possible.


Choosing to be optimistic offers surprising benefits. A study from the University of Pittsburgh concluded that women who had an optimistic outlook had a 30 percent lower risk of heart disease.

A University of Michigan study linked optimism to a lower risk of stroke. Additionally, research published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal found that optimists are less likely to experience disabilities as they get older and end up living longer than pessimists.

Optimism Is a Choice

If you think you’re a natural-born pessimist and there’s no way you can turn your mindset around, think again—research published in the Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry compared two groups of people to test their thinking patterns.

The first group completed a 5-minute exercise that involved thinking positive thoughts about their future, while the second group just went about their daily lives without making effort to think optimistically. The first group significantly increased their optimism over the two-week period, with many of them feeling more optimistic after just one day.

If you want to become a more optimistic person—despite the negativity surrounding you—then you can take measures to think positively and spread that optimistic outlook to those around you.

Change Your Thinking

You have choices in your life. You can spend the day cleaning or spend the day reading. You can go out to dinner or cook at home. You can have coffee with that long-lost friend or you can blow them off.

And, finally, you can decide to be positive or you can just go on living like you are. Being an optimistic person in a negative world begins with the decision to be positive and choosing to live that life every single day.

Avoid Negativity

You might refer to them as “whiners” or even “toxic,” but however you think of them, pessimists suck the positive energy out of the room. These people think the world revolves around them, and they often lack any sense of empathy for others.

It’s important to establish healthy boundaries with people who chronically choose to stay stuck in their own misery. That may mean having to say things to a friend like, “I notice every time I offer you an idea about how you could make your situation better, you insist nothing will work. I am not sure I’m able to help.”

It may also mean distancing yourself a bit from a relative who insists on sharing his latest predictions about the end of the world. Limit your media intake as well. Watching too many tragic stories on the news or consuming too much political news on social media can decrease your ability to maintain a “glass half full” outlook.

Recognize Negative Thinking

It’s OK to acknowledge that bad things might happen. After all, ignoring reality isn’t helpful. In fact, being realistic could be the key to doing your best. If you’re excessively positive about an upcoming interview, you might not spend any time preparing because you’re confident you’ll land the job.

If however, you have an exaggeratedly negative outlook, you might sabotage your chances of getting hired. Thinking, “No one will ever hire me,” will cause you to look and feel defeated when you walk into the interview room. Your lack of confidence may be the reason you don’t get hired.

A healthy outlook would be to remind yourself that all you can do is your best and you’ll be OK, regardless of the outcome.

Being optimistic helps you believe that brighter opportunities are on the horizon and you’re able to put in the effort to earn those opportunities. When you’re thinking negatively, take a moment to assess how realistic your thoughts truly are. Reframing your exaggeratedly negative thoughts into more realistic statements can help you maintain a healthy dose of optimism.

Cultivate Positivity

While it’s not your job to make everyone happy, it doesn’t hurt to perk up someone’s day. Once a day, share positive feedback with someone.

At work, compliment someone about a good question raised in an email or salient points that they brought up in an important meeting. At home, praise your child for how hard they worked on their math homework. Or, tell your partner how much you appreciate them.

Making other people feel positive has lasting effects on your own life.

With that, don’t forget to bestow positivity on yourself. Before bed, think about what you did during the day. Even if it was a generally lackluster day, there’s bound to be something you can praise yourself for, whether it was keeping your cool when a driver cuts you off or wrapping up a project that has really been a challenge for you.

Imagine a Positive Future

It sounds kitschy, but writing down your ideas of an optimistic future can truly make a difference when it comes to your overall outlook. If you need a primer, here’s what to do: Spend 20 minutes on four consecutive days on writing down what you want to happen tomorrow, next week, next month and next year—feel free to dream big.

Consider a serious challenge you have in your life right now and think about possible positive outcomes.

Practice Gratitude

Thinking about all the things you have to be grateful for, from warm sunshine to clean water, can give you an instant boost of optimism. You might even decide to keep a gratitude journal, in which you write down everything that makes you crack a smile during the day.

If nothing else, take a moment to stop, smile and be grateful for the good things in your life.

It’s hard to be optimistic without feeling gratitude toward those that helped you get to that happy place. While thinking about how grateful you are is helpful, sharing your gratitude with others provides added benefits. You’ll spread a bit of joy and cheer when you tell others how much you appreciate them.

Write a letter to someone who made a positive impact on your life, whether it’s a teacher, a former boss or even your mom. If possible, deliver that letter in person.

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