We all go through periods in our life when times can be pretty hard. Staying cheerful and optimistic can be difficult when our professional and personal lives are getting on top of us; worse still when both are happening at the same time. However, research tells us that people who can maintain an optimistic outlook will be both mentally and physically healthier than somebody who is naturally pessimistic.1
Maintaining a belief that things will turn out for the best while under trying circumstances isn't easy in practice. Let's be honest, it is natural to worry when something bad happens such as losing a job, but there is often a silver lining which can help both your physical and mental health. A lost job can often be the nudge you required to change your career path, start your own business, or go into further education - which you may not have done if you hadn't lost your job.
Positive psychology is an emerging field in the discipline, and it seeks to examine the impact optimism can have on our mental health. We already know that being optimistic can have a positive impact on our physical health, as optimists generally live longer than pessimists. There is also a theory that a positive outlook on life can boost the immune system, which helps avoid illness, and as optimists have fewer heart attacks, it may also have an impact on the cardiovascular system. Finally, optimists are also better equipped to deal with stress.
Changing your nature
While changing from being a natural pessimist into an optimist is real challenge, it is not an impossible process. It largely comes down to how you talk to yourself. A pessimist will often blame themselves when something goes wrong, while an optimist will instead believe their actions make positive things happen. Taking responsibility for your own happiness means thinking that good things are ahead of you, while if things go less well it is often for reasons that are outside of your control.
Pessimists may consider positive events in their life to be down to luck, and find themselves getting bogged down by a negative event. An optimist meanwhile will consider bad events to be a blip, allowing them to shake them off more quickly. Unsurprisingly, the chances are an optimist will be happier as a result.
Optimists also tend to have a few positive characteristics that can contribute to both physical and mental wellbeing. These include not complaining or dwelling when something bad happens, self-belief, being thankful for what they have and being able to reflect on the good things in their life. They also may believe that the next opportunity is just around the corner.
If you are naturally more pessimistic, the good news is that you can change if you give yourself time. Instead of dwelling on something that went wrong, think about what happened and how you can learn from it. Beating yourself up over an unsuccessful interview or project doesn't help anybody, and failing once doesn't mean you'll fail every time, so take whatever positive you can from the event and move on. You can then use what you learned from the experience for the next time.
It will also help if you consider the contributing factors to the event, rather than piling blame on yourself. Maybe outside events meant you missed a deadline, or the managerial team decided to use another person or project. There is a positive to almost every failure, you just have to find it and use it in future.
Being optimistic is about using any event simply as life experience, and garnishing that information to help you succeed. Positive thinking could be the first step towards greater happiness in your personal and professional life, so get out and enjoy yourself whenever you can. Life really is too short to feel miserable.