I think I learned to be an optimist shortly after I became a freelance writer. It was either that or starve. I had to believe that my work was good enough and that some editor eventually would buy my latest piece of writing. If not, I would have to go and get a real job.
Applying this to the rest of my life, however, was not an easy task. It’s hard to believe that the Earth can survive climate change or man’s continual onslaught but I try and apply my own brand of mild optimism in everything I do, especially my work.
Whenever I start a new article or project I have to find a spark of hope inside of me that encourages me to continue to the end. Sometimes it has literally been the growling in my stomach that has kept me going, but I would like to think that I’ve channeled that hunger into a mild form of hope.
In order to do that I let go of my expectations of great success and focus on just doing my best. And if I do my best then I have a pretty good chance of selling my great piece of work, and a better than average chance of not going to bed hungry.
I do believe in what many wise and successful people like Oprah Winfrey have said, which is “what we focus on expands.” Oprah said “What you focus on expands, and when you focus on the goodness in your life, you create more of it.”
Other people have called it the Law of Attraction and books like “The Secret” have offered us another and more positive way to view the world. But just wanting something to happen isn’t nearly enough. We also have to work for it.
Part of that work involves getting rid of the negative things in your life so that you actually choose to see the positive again. This applies to negative things, situations and most importantly, the negative people in your life. You know, the ones that suck the positivity out of every event or possibility.
Carolyn Myss, the author and motivator, calls these people Vampires, because every time they come into contact with you, they take all of your positive energy and turn it into negativity. If you want to start focusing on the positive and become an optimist, lose your Vampires.
After suggesting that people focus on the goodness in their life in order to expand it, Oprah Winfrey also said “Opportunities, relationships, even money flowed my way when I learned to be grateful no matter what happened in my life.” Just as being positive attracts more good things, being grateful also works for many people to help them become and stay positive. It’s harder to see with material things but it certainly works in relationships.
Think about how well your relationships go when you are attentive and interested in the other person. For too many of us that turns out to be the honeymoon stage of a relationship, and once that wanes things become a little more work and a lot less fun.
But just like turning on a light switch, the minute either or of you wake up and start paying attention the relationship gets back on track. The secret is really to never let that light go out completely and if we can somehow stay grateful then success in relationships and even in material things is never far behind.
Hope is an essential ingredient in optimism. You have to believe that your actions will improve a situation before you can summon up the energy to apply it. Barack Obama is a strong believer in hope. But he also knows that you have to sometimes create your own hope and your own energy in order to be an optimist about a situation. And he has lots of situations to be pessimistic about.
But I agree with President Obama, and not just because he has won two elections on this theme. I agree because he does not believe in or offer false hope or blind optimism. He offers a formula of working hard, believing in yourself, and trusting that if you do your best, then good things will happen. And in my life that seems to have worked.
If I can somehow find the hope, then my spirits seem to rise, and when they rise I get the boost I need to do the work, and then I can be fairly optimistic of a good result in the end.
Finally, and I am not sure if this is the chicken or the egg, but being healthy can help us to be optimistic. We know from studies all over the world, including at Harvard University, that an optimist will have a reduced risk of heart disease and stroke and can even recover faster from cancer than other patients. But I would suggest that being in good physical and mental health can also contribute to our optimism.
When we eat healthily and exercise regularly we feel better about ourselves and how our bodies operate. Studies have shown that physical exercise releases endorphins that create a sense of elation and positivity.
This makes us feel better physically but it can also lift us out of a bad mood and start us back on the road to hope and optimism. Like all of the other suggestions in this article this requires a little work on your part. But the reward will always be worth it.
At the end of the day I agree with Sir Winston Churchill who once said: “I am an optimist. It does not seem too much use being anything else.”