How to be more optimistic
Are you a glass half empty kind of person?
Do you imagine the worst-case scenario?
'It's bound to rain when I go on holiday', or 'I'm not going to get that new job'.
'I'm going to give that interview my best shot'.
Whichever you are, there seem to be definite advantages to thinking positively.
Benefits of optimism
Most of the evidence points to optimism being better for you.
A study from the University of Pittsburgh in the US suggested that women who are optimistic and expect good things to happen have a
30% lower risk of heart disease.
Research in 2014 at University College London found that as they get older, optimists tend to maintain better physical function and live
longer than pessimists.
"There are lots of health benefits to being an optimist," says positive psychologist and author of Positive Psychology for Overcoming Depression,
She says: "You have better physical and psychological well-being and are less prone to depression."
"You'd think pessimists would be the ones at the doctor's all the time but in fact optimists are more likely to have health check-ups as pessimists tend to
bury their heads in the sand," she adds.
One downside of being an optimist is you may be more likely to engage in risk taking behaviour thinking you'll be OK. "Optimists also think they have
a below average risk for cancer and heart disease," says Miriam, "so they are more shocked when things go wrong but they are better equipped to recover
from difficult experiences."
Can you learn to be more optimistic?
Yes. The good news is our brains are not totally hardwired for optimism or pessimism, so you can learn to accentuate the positive.
"Optimism is a personality trait but it's also a skill you can learn," says Miriam, who regards herself as a natural pessimist but a practising optimist.
So how do you do it?
Challenge your opinions
Optimists and pessimists have different styles of thinking, according to Miriam.
Her theory is that when a negative event happens a pessimist tends to blame themselves whereas an optimist doesn't take it personally.
Pessimists think a negative event is permanent, and an optimist regards it as temporary.
A pessimist thinks of a negative event as pervasive "everything is ruined," says Miriam, but an optimist can contain it and say it's not affecting
all parts of my life.
If you try to think in a different way about an event it may help you look on it in a less negative light.
"Challenge your opinions and ask yourself: what's the evidence for it being your fault, being permanent or affecting everything in your life,"
Counting your blessings, or thinking about all of the aspects of your life you are grateful for, can help you to feel less negative.
"Cultivating gratitude is a good way of encouraging optimism as gratitude is a glass half full towards the past whereas optimism is a glass half full
towards the future," says Miriam.
If you think about the positives in the past, you are more likely to be able to visualise good times ahead.
"Think of 3 things you are grateful for and write them down," says hypnotherapist Louise Staden. She claims this "makes it easier for you to continue
to think positively."
Will modelling a positive attitude make it more likely to stick?
Miriam believes so: "Our brains are flexible and the more you practise optimism the more it will develop optimism. At first you need to make a conscious
effort but it becomes automatic the more you do it."
"You are born with a predisposition to be optimistic or pessimistic but by practising for 20 minutes a day for 8 weeks you can change the left side of
your brain to think more positively," claims Louise.
Her advice is to start with the words you use in your mind, make them positive words, then visualise good things and then put yourself in that good moment.
She says: "If you are in the grip of negativity or anxiety fast forward in your mind towards a successful outcome."
Try to see the positive side
University of Kent research suggested that people who tried to look on the more positive side after an event went wrong learnt to be happier and more satisfied
than if they blamed themselves or moaned to friends.
If it's a small thing then having a laugh about it also helped.
Getting into the habit of writing down the good things that have happened to you at the end of every day may help you have a more positive mindset.
Some people seem to always have something to moan about. If you spend too much time with them you can end up feeling drained by their negativity and
be more likely to adopt their way of thinking. So surround yourself with positive people and some of that positivity may rub off on you.
One study by researchers at Harvard University found that happiness spreads through social groups, and that the everyday interactions we have with others
are contagious in terms of happiness.
Louise is also a NLP practitioner. NLP stands for neuro-linguistic programming, an approach to personal development and psychotherapy that's been around
since the 1970s. It's about learning how to change your behaviour, sort of re-programming your brain to adopt a different attitude through practising various techniques.
"If there's a situation you feel very pessimistic about, try brain washing yourself into thinking you'll love it. In 3 weeks you will have changed your neural
pathway and will be feeling differently," claims Louise.
Meditation and mindfulness
The positive benefits of meditation are well-documented. Some research suggests that people who meditate regularly have more positive emotions than those
Practising mindfulness may also help - that is becoming more aware of the present moment without thinking of the past or future.
Mindfulness is supposed to help us appreciate the world around us and make us more aware of our thoughts and feelings.
Having an optimistic attitude doesn't mean things will never go wrong in your life, and upsetting events won't happen to you.
It just means you won't constantly be expecting them, and if you do experience bad times you'll be better placed to cope with them.