Optimism, even if you have to force it at first, has also shown a host of benefits.
Smiling can literally change your body’s chemistry, and everything else about optimism can best be summed up as cultivating the habit of looking at the bright side of things.
To stay positive, optimistic, and grateful, cut out negative people from your life, understand that life is a marathon, pay attention to your changes and improvements, and try to embrace a solution-oriented approach.
Smiling improves mood.
Just the mere physical act of smiling—regardless of context, whether in a great mood or not—can trick your brain into feeling better.
I’m not kidding—smile first, ask questions later.
In 1988, scientists from Universität Mannheim in Germany did a study about emotion but did not tell their test participants that was the focus of their study.
They just asked them to hold pencils with their faces.
Participants in one group were instructed to hold the pencils vertically between their teeth.
This maneuver, however awkwardly, forced them to smile.
Participants in another group were instructed to hold their pencils lengthwise between their lips, which turned their expressions into frowns.
Those in a final control group were just told to uneventfully hold the pencils with their hands.
If it sounds like these folks weren’t having a good enough time already, the test administrators then showed them a series of humorous images.
The participants who were forced to smile expressed that they found the images much funnier than those who were forced into frowning, with the control group landing in the middle.
The scientists concluded that it was easier for the subjects to exhibit joy—via laughter—if their physical muscles were “used to” do so by holding a smile.
You might say that smiling is the physical manifestation of optimism, in which case it can literally improve your mood and make you happier.
Positivity and meditation prolong life
In 1989, Stanford professor Dr. David Spiegel ran a study on 86 women enduring the final stages of breast cancer.
Half of the women were administered only their usual prescribed medical treatment, whereas the other half were assigned weekly support groups in addition to their regular medication.
The support meetings were chances for the women to share their emotions and associate with other patients in a sympathetic environment.
After the conclusion of the study, it was revealed that the women in the support group lived twice as long as the women who only received traditional treatment.
The findings were echoed in a 1999 study that showed cancer patients who generally felt powerless or hopeless had a lower chance of survival than those who felt more optimistic.
Another remarkable story involves screenwriter David Seidler, who won an Oscar for the screenplay of The King’s Speech.
Seidler had been diagnosed with bladder cancer in 2005, which had been controlled with visualization and meditation techniques.
Two weeks before his bladder was to be operated on, Seidler refocused his attention and visualized being cancer-free.
When Seidler underwent a biopsy immediately before his operation, his doctor said, “I don’t know how to explain it, but there’s no cancer there.” After comparing Seidler’s pre-diagnosis biopsy with his new results and sharing them with other professionals, the doctor’s proclamation that Seidler was cancer-free was confirmed.
Seidler theorized that his visualizations had caused his cancer to go into “spontaneous remission.” At least, that’s a story worthy of a screenwriter.
The scientific community has various opinions about how effective positive thinking is in improving health issues—this shouldn’t be taken as a suggestion for a cure.
You know that optimism can help, and it is best summed up as building a habit of looking at things from alternative perspectives—the brighter side of things or the silver lining in the dark cloud.
Conflicts, problems, and trouble force us to choose how we approach them.
We consider how we’re going to concentrate and channel our efforts.
There’s often the impulse to seek to blame other people, society in general, or our environments.
Optimists don’t do that.
Instead, they use the solution mindset and try to find remedies.
Think back on some of your worst breakdowns or defeats from the past.
Did you take anything meaningful from them? How did what you went through change your approach so you didn’t repeat those mistakes? By fairly and objectively looking back on your past failings, you’ll be better able to diagnose new difficulties and be able to proactively find answers for them.
If you were in a broken relationship, you might try to understand what traits you exhibited —as well as those of your partner—that you might want to consciously modify or avoid.
Many of us can’t let go of our failures.
We’re constantly haunted by them, allowing them to compromise our self-confidence and raise a closet full of doubts.
This harkens back to the problem-seeking mindset we discussed earlier.
When that happens to you, simply ask yourself, “What’s the one thing I could do that will improve this circumstance?” When you reinstate the solution- focused mindset, you’ll get a near-immediate feeling of progress, potential, and confidence.
All those serve as the basis for an optimist.
For example, if you’re in an adverse situation at work—like a doomed project or a serious mistake—you’d want to describe what the ideal result would have been like, determine what steps kept it from getting that way, diagnose why they didn’t happen when they were supposed to, and note how and when to improve the situation.
This keeps you focused on the model you want to emulate and makes fixing it feel like a positive step.
Optimistic folks don’t have any time to spend on those who would bring them down—the pessimists who deplete others of their spirit and strength.
Cutting negative people out of your life—even if they’re close to you—is often necessary to save your sense of positivity.
In fact, you may have read these last few paragraphs and realized that you, too, might be one of those pessimistic people.
We can help you with that.
Instead of living in the echo chamber of naysayers, try to cultivate relationships with people who are more positive-minded.
Exchange new ideas with each other and see if you can find a way forward together.
Bit by bit, you’ll probably find that sourness fading away.
You’ll come across other optimists since they’re naturally attracted to that kind of positivity.
You’ll probably get so much assistance and inspiration that you’ll have no idea what to do with all of it.
They’ll get back from you in turn, and it’ll be a virtuous circle instead of a vicious one.
Before any of that happens, though, you’ll have to reduce or eliminate the time you spend with the negative crowd—the ones who irritate or frustrate you.
As they say at the beginning of every baseball season, “This is a marathon—not a sprint.” Life is a series of miniature victories that compile over a period of time.
When considering the meaning of your life, it’s good to take the long view: weeks, months, even years.
Your emotions will likely level out and be more positive when you ponder the longer frames of time.
Limiting your view to what’s happening right now tends to redouble the negative emotions you might be feeling.
For example, if you’re starting a new business, you may be mired in certain steps you have to take to get rolling.
You have to apply and wait for business licenses, figure out how you’re going to generate income, determine how you’re going to market yourself, and endure not getting a huge number of customers for a while.
The “sprint” mindset would make you exhausted with all this activity and might make you question whether it’s really worth it.
But the “marathon” mindset understands these are all necessary steps that almost every single business in the free market has had to go through.
After you become successful, you’ll understand why it was worth it.
Pay attention to how you’ve changed.
Ask yourself what you’ve learned and in which areas you’ve gotten better.
Write them down, record them, or just meditate on them when you’re going about your day.
Like any skill or mindset, self-confidence is something you have to exercise, as much as you must work for physical fitness or developing a habit.
When it gets to be a routine, you’ll be able to maintain it more easily over time.
Noting your progress will feel like a normal thing you do every day.
Another effective way to support this practice is to catalog your successes at the end of each day.
Simply reflect and ask yourself, “What did I do well today?” All this does is fortify your optimism as a matter of daily practice.
As your daily answers amass day by day and week by week, your self-confidence will only amplify and lay the groundwork for your success.
Similarly, inject optimism at a higher level by commemorating improvement when it happens, even if the progress is small or others might consider it insignificant.
If you’re trying to lose 50 pounds, take a victory lap if you’ve only managed to lose half a pound.
Be grateful to yourself for making progress whenever you can.
It’s easy to laugh off the idea of positive thinking and optimism as Pollyanna-ish, giddy cheerleading.
(At least you’re laughing!) But there’s ample support for the notion that such adjustments can literally change one’s mentality, initiative, and even physical health.
Not only that, but it’s astonishingly cost-effective.
Smiles don’t cost anything, but they’re never cheap.
Feeling positive and optimistic is also a mindset choice that can benefit your fulfillment and happiness.
Especially in times of global stress and worry, it’s becoming a more important choice to make.
Observing the world with a positive attitude and the resilience to make the best of what life has to offer have prolonged effects on our immediate outlook but also have tangible benefits over the long-term.
A couple of studies have shown how even just cosmetic alterations that reflect a positive attitude can effect meaningful change.
- The Art of Intentional Thinking: Master Your Mindset. Control and Choose Your Thoughts. Create Mental Habits to Fulfill Your Potential (Second Edition) By Peter Hollins
- Get the audiobook on Audible at https://bit.ly/IntThink
- Show notes and/or episode transcripts are available at https://bit.ly/self-growth-shownotes
- Peter Hollins is a bestselling author, human psychology researcher, and a dedicated student of the human condition. Visit https://www.PeteHollins.com to pick up your FREE human nature cheat sheet: 7 surprising psychology studies that will change the way you think.
- For narration information visit Russell Newton at https://bit.ly/VoW-home
- For production information visit Newton Media Group LLC at https://bit.ly/newtonmg