10 Steps to Grow Your Optimism into Happiness and Success
While Merriam Webster has intricate definitions of optimism, and its close cousin confidence, what it boils down to is this. Optimists hold favorable beliefs about the world and the confident believe favorably about themselves. Optimistic people tend to be more self-confident, while pessimists are less so. Researchers have determined that optimism and pessimism are rooted in the stories we tell ourselves about our successes and failures. According to psychologist Dr. Martin Seligman, in his book Learned Optimism, “your explanatory style stems directly from your view about your place in the world- whether you think you are valuable and deserving or worthless and hopeless”. If the stories you tell yourself haven’t led you to a life you love, you likely subscribe to a channel that features the worthless and hopeless gospel. Though your stories and beliefs were developed in childhood, they can be changed. You can choose different beliefs and, therefore, different stories. They are a matter of perspective, which is more subjective than accurate. Just because you believe you aren’t good enough does not make it so.
To further delineate the differences between optimism and pessimism, for self-identification purposes, the characteristics of pessimism include ascribing your successes to luck or chance, while attributing your failures to characteristics about yourself, saying things like: I don’t have what it takes to do ___; I’m too old to ___; and, I’m not interesting/outgoing/attractive enough for _____; I’ve never been able to do ____. You not only take credit personally for your failures, you hold a grudge against yourself indefinitely, and spread this perceived failure over all areas of your life, making statements like: nothing ever works out for me; I’m a bad luck charm; I don’t make good decisions, and, I can’t do anything right. You use words that fortify your story like never, always, no one and nothing. When you make your failures personal, permanent and pervasive, your confidence, work, relationships, health and happiness don’t stand a chance.
Optimism isn’t a unicorn, reserved for cheerleader types, or superficial. It’s not about envisioning your glass half full or immersing yourself in positive messages. Optimism is a cornerstone of happiness and confidence, but isn’t something only possessed by happy, confident people. You aren’t born with it; you learned to be some level of optimistic or pessimistic in your early childhood environment. Even if a more pessimistic view was bestowed on you then, you can learn to me more optimistic now. Optimism is a choice. If you want to be successful, you must first be optimistic and confident.
Here’s what you can do to increase your optimism starting today:
1. Lead with your strengths. Everyone has strengths, gifts, talents and natural abilities. Articulate what you are good at and how they can help you in life, love and work. Choosing a partner with some of the same strengths and some complementary ones leads to a successful relationship just as choosing work that relies heavily on your strengths creates a happy, successful work life. We are all good at many things, whether anyone has ever told you so or not.
2. Keep your probabilities in check. Good and bad things happen to everyone. Challenges are not your lot in life- they’re everyone’s. So are opportunities, gifts, and silver linings. We all have wins and losses in life, love, work and relationships. Let both your wins and losses define your character, not just the latter.
3. Focus on what you want- not on what you don’t want, want less of, what drives you crazy, and what hasn’t worked out. You may be surrounded by what you don’t want, but an optimist knows things will get better and focuses on how to get there.
4. Do what you think you can’t. Start small. Where a bright color, set up your shop on Etsy to sell what you make, talk about your dreams with a friend or family, take a math class, sign up for a boot camp workout (it’s ok to stand in the back and take lots of breaks), heal a broken relationship. Conquer smaller challenges, then go bigger. Purple hair, here you come.
5. Be the positive energy leader. Lift others up even if you’re not there yourself. Spread optimism-it’s a great way to practice it. You help others and yourself at the same time. The more you practice, the better you get at it. Optimism is contagious the same way negativity and pessimism are.
6. List what went right today. What worked out today, yesterday and recently. It might be easier to see what went wrong because it’s a habit that you and those around you share. It’s a habit our culture shares. Talk about what went right instead. Celebrate the wins, even the small ones.
7. Express gratitude for what you have. Even when life gives you challenge after challenge, you are fortunate. We are all fortunate in some ways. If you are here, breathing air into your lungs, be grateful.
8. Identify your goals. Identify big and small goals. If you aren’t clear about where you’re going, you can’t know when you’ve arrived. You also won’t know when you need to shift your strategy. Jack Canfield says, “vague goals produce vague results”. And vague results produce pessimism.
9. Know your role models and heroes. There are always people with more difficulties than you and those who have overcome more than you have in life. This is how we are certain that we can win against the odds. Figure out who has achieved great success against the odds in a way that resonates with you and let their story inspire you.
10.Choose your company wisely. You are who you spend the most time with. It’s acceptable to set boundaries with family and close friends. Limit time with people that aren’t good for your energy, time or bank account. Choose to spend more time with positive, optimistic people that encourage and support the best version of yourself and do the same for them.
The truth is that every one of us has wins and losses in life, work, love, relationships and with our selves. The stories we tell (ourselves and others) about those wins and losses drives our well-being, health, happiness and future successes. The moral of the story- choose your words wisely. Inaccurate thoughts and beliefs don’t become truer because you’ve held them for a long time. If you want a richer, fuller, more meaningful life, change your stories. Rewrite them. Put them on pretty paper. Add glitter. You can’t completely control what shows up in life, but you can control what you do with it, how you think about it and how it shapes your happiness and success.