Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms: to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.
Have you noticed those upbeat people in your environment who never seem to let anything get them down? They seem to manage life’s stresses and challenges with a smile on their face and a skip in their step. No matter what lemons life seems to throw at them, they are still able to make lemonade. What is the quality that these people have and how can you start to cultivate it in your own life?
The quality you are noticing is called optimism. Optimism is defined as a general inclination to anticipate positive outcomes in any given situation. An optimistic person expects things to turn out for the best. You can imagine how this kind of attitude immunizes one against the inevitable challenges encountered in any stressful situation.
How we appraise a situation in determining the stress and/or anxiety the situation generates plays a key role. We generate negative or positive thoughts on a day-to-day basis based on how you appraise a situation. Often the experience of stress is based more in the perception of a situation as opposed to the subjective reality. So, if you see the world through “rose colored spectacles,” you will automatically gravitate to a positive thought process and, similarly, repeatedly adopting a negative thought process reinforces negative self-talk.
It’s as if you are listening to a radio and you can choose the channel: upbeat, inspiring music or dark, emo music. The optimist generates a flow of positive self-talk – a positive approach to life that allows him/her to deal more effectively with stress and bounce back from life’s challenges.
So, can optimism be cultivated or are some people just born happier and more positive? While optimism is sometimes conceptualized as an inborn trait, there are many things you can do to cultivate a general attitude of positivity in your life. Through taking charge of your self-talk, you can learn to think like a “realistic optimist” which will allow you to bounce back with renewed energy in the face of failure. Your attitude to yourself and your environment requires an active decision on your part to choose a positive outlook on yourself and life, and take active steps to live it!
By becoming attuned to your negative self-talk you can also start to make choices that generate positive self-talk such as progressing toward realistic goals in difficult circumstances, being aware of your exposure to negative influences such as media coverage of violence, and maintaining a hopeful outlook in expecting that good things will happen in your life. The core of this attitude lies in the belief that you have power over your thoughts, the capacity to solve your problems and the agency to direct the course of your life.
Try incorporating positivity generating strategies into your daily life and notice the impact. For instance, you could:
- Identify three good things you do every day
- Write down the best possible outcomes for yourself in the future in different spheres of life
- Reflect on the good that’s happened to you in the last day
- Reflect on what you are really grateful for and why
Choosing to generate optimism in your life is a realistic and healthy life choice. Just like you might notice that smoking is bad for you and would never touch a cigarette, unhealthy, negative thoughts can be just as toxic. Positivity, on the other hand, enhances well-being and resilience.
By incorporating various strategies for generating positivity into your life, you can start to reap the benefits of a more positive mind-set. So, notice the lens you view life through and take an active part in ensuring that the thoughts you cultivate are ones that will help you grow.
Stacey Leibowitz-Levy, PhD,is a licensed psychologist with a master’s degree in clinical psychology and a PhD in the area of stress and its relation to goals and emotion.She is the editor for e-counseling.com.