PHILADELPHIA — Learned optimism can be beneficial, helping to minimize feelings of depression, reduce stress levels and possibly improve physical health.
According to a controlled study by the University of Pennsylvania’s Martin Seligman, Ph.D., and Gregory Buchanan, Ph.D., incoming university freshmen who participated in a workshop on cognitive coping skills reported fewer adverse physical problems over time and retained their physical and mental health better than those who were not in a coping skills group.
This isn’t the first evidence that optimism can have profound benefits. In a retrospective study of 34 healthy Hall of Fame baseball players who were on teams between 1900 and 1950, the known optimists lived longer.
Survival rates for optimistic cancer patients are higher than for those who are hopeless. Optimists are also better equipped to handle stress and manage incidents that would incite anxiety. Although there are plenty of people who seem to be eternally optimistic, optimism is not an inherited trait.
Changing perceptions and teaching oneself to be more optimistic is possible. Being an optimist doesn’t mean turning a blind eye to problems or expecting everything to be easy. Being optimistic means learning from situations and recognizing that obstacles are there for a purpose.
Men and women hoping to become more optimistic can employ the following strategies.
- Stop and embrace a positive event. Take time to mull over something good that has happened and take credit for your involvement. Mentally categorize this feeling for later when you need an example of the way optimism makes you feel.
- Surround yourself with optimists. Hang out with people who have a sunny view on life rather than those who bring you down or commiserate. Learning from example can help you develop more positive thinking patterns.
- Believe you can and will succeed. When approaching something new, don’t set yourself up for failure. Go into it with the vision that you will thrive. Even if you don’t succeed as planned, you can use the opportunity as a learning experience and set a new plan to tackle.
- Erase negative phrases from your vocabulary. Using the terms “I can’t” or “It’s impossible” is a recipe for failure.
- Avoid complaints. Complaining does little more than make the person complaining feel even worse and could bring down the people around you. Because it won’t solve anything, there really is nothing productive about it. If you must get your feelings out, write them in a book and then tuck that book away.
- Take care of your body. You certainly can’t be positive if you aren’t feeling 100 percent. A well-balanced diet, routine exercise, sufficient rest, and finding time to go outdoors and get some fresh air and sunshine can help keep a person on a positive path.
- Get involved. Spending too much time isolated and alone can eventually degrade anyone’s feelings of well-being. Take the time to meet with people outside of your family and engage in different activities that take your mind off of stressors. People who are busy in a good way are more inclined to see the brighter side of life.
- Practice positive affirmations. Tell yourself good things. Receiving praise is something that instantly can put a person in a good mood. Instead of waiting for praise from others, give yourself a pat on the back every day.
- Realize that things don’t happen overnight. Becoming more optimistic will take time, but it can be done. Don’t be discouraged if it takes a little more time than you expected. Living longer and more productively comes partially from being an optimistic person and making the best of every situation.