Looking at the glass half full is like sipping the Elixer of Immortality, according to exhaustive research conducted by Boston University School of Medicine over 30 years. I mean you won’t get a full Tuck Everlasting thing going on, but according to the study, being an optimist contributes to “11 to 15 percent longer life span, on average, and to greater odds of achieving ‘exceptional longevity,’” or living to the age of 85 or beyond. This is great news if you’re an optimist. If you’re a pessimist, not so much. Like IMHO, everything is a terrible dumpster fire. (Anyone want to guess which side I’m on?) And is it even possible for me to learn how to be more positive?
If you’re wired to be naturally pessimistic but not interested in dying prematurely, are there any strategies to achieve a positive mindset that doesn’t border on delusion? In fact, yes. Here’s how to look on the bright side.
Consider if a negative thought serves you
“Whenever a client is speaking in a negative way about a future event or having a negative prediction, I always encourage them to ask themselves: ‘How is this belief or assumption serving me?’” says psychotherapist Jennifer Silvershein, LCSW.
Keeping realistic expectations can be a good protective barrier when it comes to navigating life. If you walk into a job interview thinking an offer is in the bag, you’re going to be a million times more disappointed when to get that rejection email. Although, in an overwhelming amount of situations, negative thinking feeds a self-fulfilling prophecy, explains Silvershein. Going in for that third interview with a fatalistic outlook (“I’m not going to get it anyway”) isn’t going to benefit you, my love.
“Many times the client will realize that they’re having the negative assumption as a way to avoid feeling disappointment,” Silvershein says. “But when we recognize that disappointment is natural, common and won’t kill us, we can focus on increasing our ability to tolerate the feeling, and therefore will no longer need the protective mechanism that negative thinking serves us.”
Focus on the reality of the situation
Maybe your pessimistic thinking is this everyday idea that you’re going to get fired from your job, and you’re plagued by a day-to-day anxiety over it. As Lily Allen once said, it’s hard out there, so I get it, you want to do well. If there’s no realistic reason why you’d get fired though (numbers are up, your last performance review was stellar) then it’s time to relax.
“Do these negative assumptions or negative thought patterns come true?” Silvershein says. “If the answer is no then I encourage clients to reflect on why they continue to fall back on these thought patterns.”
Find at least one thing to be grateful for
I am head-over-heels in love with using gratitude practices as a coping mechanism. A quick list can really elevate a terrible goddamn day/week/month/year/life. Okay, sometimes the full list may feel like an overwhelming task when things are legitimately horrible, like you’re dealing with a parent’s illness or a break-up. Silvershein recommends that you can start small when finding a bright spot in your world.
“I encourage clients to search for golden nuggets within their day—this is finding one positive situation in an entire 24 hours,” says Silvershein. “Often when we change or mindset from noticing what we don’t like to what we do, we begin feeling more positive.”
Good luck, prospector!
On the lighter side of things, here’s why laughter can bring you an extra boost of happiness. And a bit of advice on how to enjoy the little things when everyone else is having big life moments.