Health & Wellness Articles

Optimism and the Power of Positive Thinking

Change Your Thoughts, Change Your Life!

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“How do you do it?” my friend asked me one day over coffee. “You’ve had some awful stuff happen to you over the years, but you’re still so cheerful. What gives?”

My friend was right, my life had been rough at times. I’d gotten divorced and I’d been laid off a couple of times within a five-year period. I should have been angry and bitter, but I wasn’t. I was still looking forward to each new day and the possibilities ahead of me. While this was normal for me, my friend’s comment made me realize that not everybody felt the way I did. Why was I so optimistic, anyway?

The Definition of Optimism
Optimism comes from the Latin word optimus, meaning "best," which describes how an optimistic person is always looking for the best in any situation and expecting good things to happen. Optimism is the tendency to believe, expect or hope that things will turn out well. Even if something bad happens, like the loss of a job, an optimist sees the silver lining. For me, getting laid off was the catalyst that allowed me to start my own business. As I packed up my office, my mind was already whirling with the possibilities ahead. Without that push, I may never have made the leap to self-employment. Losing my job was a good thing after all.

The emerging field of positive psychology studies the positive impact that optimism has on mental health. Other research shows that optimism may be good for my physical health too—optimists are sick less and live longer than pessimists. Apparently, a positive outlook on life strengthens the immune system (and the body's defenses against illness), cardiovascular system (optimists have fewer heart attacks), and the body's ability to handle stress.

Happiness through Positive Self-Talk
Being an optimist or a pessimist boils down to the way you talk to yourself. Optimists believe that their own actions result in positive things happening, that they are responsible for their own happiness, and that they can expect more good things to happen in the future. Optimists don’t blame themselves when bad things happen. They view bad events as results of something outside of themselves. I didn’t blame myself for losing my job, but saw it as a business decision that had nothing to do with me personally.

Pessimists think the opposite way, however. They blame themselves for the bad things that happen in their lives and think that one mistake means more will inevitably come. Pessimists see positive events as flukes that are outside of their control—a lucky streak that probably won’t happen again.
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About The Author

Leanne Beattie Leanne Beattie
A freelance writer, marketing consultant and life coach, Leanne often writes about health and nutrition. See all of Leanne's articles.

Member Comments

  • Being an optimist is not something that you can turn on and off like a switch. I am a "Cockeyed Optimist" but I also understand depression. I am normally a very "up" person but I went through a period of illness where I just couldn't cope and needed help! Yes, sometimes you can improve your mood but actual depression is something else! - 4/2/2015 9:44:04 AM
  • Lots of good points about the how and why of optimism. It is particularly important for me when "something bad happens." I have discovered that that is the time when I need to sit back and stop taking control, take time to look around my life, take time to listen, even to ask, "What do You want me to KNOW today? Usually, when one door seemed to close unexpectedly, another opened in a new surprising place. And my needs have always been met during those low times whether it was being able to pay the bills, or get unasked help finding my car from 7 different people in Walmart parking lot after spending 3 hours in chemotherapy. Don't know where they came from, but I couldn't take another step, couldn't find the car. They came from all different directions, went in all different directions and found what I needed. Yes, my car, but also the knowledge that helpful, caring people are all around me, and YOU. - 4/2/2015 8:45:29 AM
  • This article is not great, and really shouldn't be in the depression area. You don't get depression from "negative thoughts," and no amount of telling me "not to complain when things go bad" is going to make me feel any better. Besides, there's a positive side to negativity: it keeps you grounded. - 3/16/2015 9:31:27 AM
  • Some of us keep an optimistic attitude to overcome those massive roadblocks that life deals us. I keep positive so that the negative does not overcome me. That doesn't mean I have not had negative moments in my life, I have, but I only let them overwhelm me until I have a chance to take a step back and breathe. My coping mechanism is massive freak out and shutdown. Evaluation of the situation and then to look at the obstacle as a challenge to be overcome, or worked around. I have to keep that positive outlook close by, otherwise some of those roadblocks in life would have paralyzed me and I would have given up. I suppose that is true for most people, but to act like optimists do not see reality is ridiculous. I know the World is not fair. I know that life can be overwhelming, I just choose to not let it defeat me. That does not mean I always overcome obstacles, it means I learn either how to live with them or detour around them. Having a positive attitude has been my greatest defense. - 2/16/2015 3:20:04 PM
  • This is simplistic yet helpful in general. However, it also sounds like when things go wrong find some reason why so that I don't have to be accountable for my actions. This is a problem in society. There should be a balance. Sometimes when things go wrong it IS due to something that was in our control. - 2/10/2015 8:34:02 AM
  • I'm not depressed because I don't "see the silver lining". I am depressed because bad things happen, and I can do nothing to stop them, or fix them. - 2/9/2015 7:56:08 AM
  • MOXOND
    The New year brings new resolutions can we live up to these expectations we have to encourage our self doubts move the barriers if we want to meet our expectations not every body holds you by the hand to be optimistic we are following positive momentum key to lifes endeavours.

    Yours David - 1/1/2015 6:27:20 AM
  • Depression and negativity runs in the family. It's not always easy but I don't want to live like that. I'm glad my dad was the example of tolerance, acceptance, hope, and kindness that I could make comparisons from. I also look back to my childhood when I volunteered to help out in the disability class. I was given the most challenging case of a quadrapulegic. It instilled in my a deep sense of respect for differences and patience.

    Optimism is the tendency to believe, expect or hope that things will turn out well. Well it's been 14 years with my disabled partner and I'm still hoping that my life, his life, our lives and health can be improved. Maybe it's insanity but I would like to believe it is generousity and care. - 10/13/2014 12:44:37 AM
  • Turning the 'Negative Chatterbox' is difficult for me sometimes, but it's something I can learn. Being pessimistic is useless, it eats energy out and it doesn't help preventing the negative in life. - 9/8/2014 5:55:24 AM
  • I like this. I'm pretty optimistic for the most part, but it's a good reminder. Sometimes life gets hard, and it's super easy to get stuck in a negative cycle. I'm currently dealing with friends in my life that are in the negative cycles, it's hard to not catch 'the negative bug.' - 6/29/2014 10:46:07 PM
  • I had been reading an article titled "chatter box". It discusses things that others may say or think about you or others.
    I remember feeling uneasy when somewhere when say that I put on extra pounds. Or that the weight gain looked good on me.
    Then I realized and accepted that, if I love what God created, that by changing the bad eating habits that I had developed, I can be the individual that I was created to be. - 4/10/2014 12:59:16 PM
  • good article I'm afraid I do get depressed when things happen and complain to those close to me and ask why but I've learned that I must not dwell in that area or I really become miserable. I find it's like grief - it has stages and I try to pull myself through them as quickly as possible. I have 10 chronic medical conditions and there have been ties when I've wanted to just crawl back into my bed and stay there. I've wanted to "do nothing." But, I've learned that like attitude, the more I do, the more I can do, and the more I want to do. 10 years ago I was given 1-6 years to live - as you can see, I'm still here and hope to be for a number more years. I want to enjoy what's left of my life and make the best of what I have. I hope that some will learn from your comments and better enjoy the life they have. Thanks for sharing. - 4/4/2014 8:26:32 PM
  • SIBAWH
    Great article. However, I have one comment. It's not right to ALWAYS blame "external forces" for your failure. Sometimes it really is our own shortcoming. We didn't do our best. We didn't give it our all. It makes me sad when I don't do my best, because I know I could've done better. But the optimistic thing to do here is to reflect, learn from your mistakes and try again. It's ok to regret and be sad/angry for a little while but never let failure set you back. Without failing, we can't improve. - 11/13/2013 11:38:17 AM
  • Interesting article. I've always been an optimistic, (mostly), cheerful person. I do have down days. But - I live with Norman Negative, who is never stressed, and I stress easily. So being an optimistic, cheerful person doesn't necessarily mean we're stress free.
    I long to be like my cheerful, optimistic sisters who are able to let everything just roll off their shoulders like water off a duck's back. - 9/20/2013 12:55:59 AM
  • I think being optimistic doesn't mean you have to stick your head in the sand. You can be optimistic without looking at the world with rose-colored glasses. My world view is enjoy the good times while they are here! It would be a shame to not fully enjoy the good and postive in life because you're too worried that it may end or things may change. I'll be happy and positive and if dark clouds emerge I will deal with them realistically.... - 8/17/2013 1:06:14 PM

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