Do you wish you could be an optimist? Are you tired of continuously looking for what can go wrong?
Making the shift to a sunnier disposition can be good for your health, says Scott Aylwin, Senior Director of Addiction and Mental Health with Covenant Health.
“From an emotional point of view, if I have a negative outlook it’s hard to be happy,” says Scott. “Those things clash. If I have a negative outlook my job satisfaction is going to be lower, my life satisfaction is going to be lower.”
Research shows pessimists may face more health challenges. In a study from Harvard's T.H. Chan School of Public Health, researchers analyzed data from 70,000 women who had been asked about how they viewed their futures. The women who were most optimistic were significantly less likely to die from several major causes of death, including cancer, heart disease and stroke, compared with the most pessimistic women, over an eight-year period.
It’s important to remember that being optimistic means you will still experience feelings of sadness or negative emotions. It’s not about suppressing feelings, but rather about the need to stop letting negative thoughts dominate your life.
Scott has good news for those seeking to adopt a more positive attitude. “It’s actually quite easy, but you have to make the choice."
1. Make the decision
You need to want to make a shift to become more positive. It can’t be that someone else is wanting you to make the change.
2. Start to replace negative influences
When we surround ourselves with negative people, it starts to affect the way we think, explains Scott. It becomes the norm. Maybe the people on your sports team are negative and you need to join a different team. You may even need to change your job or find a new career path.
While positive influences are ideal, the idea is to move away from negative elements in your life. Any shift in that direction is an improvement.
“Maybe you have a best friend who is always, ‘The sky is falling. Life is terrible. Woe is me.’ Maybe you need to associate yourself with someone who isn’t the life of the party, but at least they’re not always in the mud,” says Scott. “Think a bit less Eeyore and a bit more Tigger.”
3. Reframe your thoughts
Instead of moaning that it’s Monday, try looking forward to the week, suggests Scott. Optimistic thoughts and behaviours will result in more positive feelings. This has to be deliberate. “There’s hard science that says if I put a smile on my face, specific pathways in my brain are associated with a smile. It makes it more likely that I will have positive thoughts.”
4. Create opportunities
You need to experience joy. Find ways to add things you love to do into your life and make them a priority. Whether it’s strumming a guitar or going for a walk in the woods, make the time for it. “If it makes you happy, you need to make sure you’re doing it,” he says.
5. Get enough sleep
This is vital and often overlooked. “Sleep has positive impact on mood, but also on every other part of your general well-being,” says Scott.
6. Be kind to your body
Exercise and diet are also well-known factors that can boost our overall well-being.
7. Stick with it
Changing the way you think can take time. You will slowly notice that you start to look for things that are going right rather than wrong. Be persistent. The benefits are worth it.