Being Optimistic When the World Around You Isn't

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

person writing in a journal

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Sometimes, it’s hard to be happy when you think about negative things that are happening in the world. It’s harder still when the people around you are constantly talking about all those negative things. But you don't have to join ranks with the pessimists. In fact, it's extra important to be optimistic when there's negativity surrounding you.

Being optimistic means that you possess an overall positive outlook of the world, trusting that good things will happen and that people's desires will be fulfilled. On the other hand, being pessimistic means you assume a negative outlook of the world.

While most people fall somewhere in the middle between being a complete optimist and being a complete pessimist, we usually favor one outlook over the other. Learn how infusing some optimism into your life can benefit your health.

Benefits of Optimism

Choosing to be optimistic offers surprising benefits. These include:

  • Confidence: Optimism is linked with increased levels of confidence, especially when it comes to making decisions and feeling secure with the choices you make.
  • Decreased risk of illness: A study from the University of Pittsburgh concluded that women who had an optimistic outlook had a 30% lower risk of heart disease. A University of Michigan study linked optimism to a lower risk of stroke.
  • Improved quality of life: One study found that people who were optimists and had positive expectations about the future experienced an improved quality of life when compared to people who had low levels of optimism and to pessimists.
  • Longer lifespan: 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.
  • Mental health benefits: People who are optimistic tend to experience less stress and feel a greater appreciation for other people.
  • Relieved depression symptoms: Optimism is linked with lessening the symptoms of depression and even reducing suicidal ideation.
  • Sleep quality: Being optimistic may improve your sleep quality, which is a key component in improving and maintaining your mental health.

Press Play for Advice On Optimism

Hosted by Editor-in-Chief and therapist Amy Morin, LCSW, this episode of The Verywell Mind Podcast, shares how you can learn to be more optimistic and the benefits that come with being more optimistic. Click below to listen now.

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Choose Optimism

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.

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 a 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 tend to suck the positive energy out of the room.

It’s important to establish healthy boundaries with people who chronically choose to stay stuck in their own misery, especially if they don't show empathy for others.

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 their latest predictions about the end of the world.

You may also consider limiting your media intake. Watching too many tragic stories on the news or consuming too much political news on social media can decrease your ability to maintain an optimistic outlook. Informed, but not overwhelmed should be the goal.

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 excessively negative outlook, you might sabotage your chances of getting hired. Thinking, "No one will ever hire me," for example, can 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 overly 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 cut you off or wrapping up a project that had 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 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.

A Word From Verywell

Though it can be hard to remain positive in the face of obstacles, remember that optimism is a skill you can learn. Start with one small step. Maybe you choose to catch yourself the next time you're dwelling on a negative thought and swap in a positive thought instead.

If you find that your negative thoughts are distressing and reducing your quality of life, try reaching out to a mental health professional, like a therapist, who can help you understand your thought patterns and work with you to find better coping skills.

12 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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Additional Reading

By Amy Morin, LCSW
Amy Morin, LCSW, is a psychotherapist and international bestselling author. Her books, including "13 Things Mentally Strong People Don't Do," have been translated into more than 40 languages. Her TEDx talk,  "The Secret of Becoming Mentally Strong," is one of the most viewed talks of all time.