Life can be challenging, but outlook can make a difference. The good news is that we can change our outlooks and mindsets–our attitudes towards or beliefs about the world—to be help ourselves be more positive and productive. In both our professional and personal lives, we can use the power of positivity to improve happiness, resilience, and productivity.
Note that if you or a loved one has a mental health concern, please ask for help. Advice and effective treatment options from licensed mental health professionals are available at BetterHelp.
What is a Positive Outlook?
- A person with a positive outlook on life may be called an optimist.
- People may have a tendency towards optimism or pessimism.
- Optimism is the hopeful expectation that good things will happen.
- Pessimism is a general belief that negative things will happen.
- An optimist can maintain a hopeful outlook but still be realistic.
- In the face of failure or problems, optimists may be ready to accept the hard times, learn from them, and try again or move forward, but they don’t tend to dwell as much on negative outcomes.
- Being positive does not mean being without or ignoring problems, but a positive outlook can make dealing with problems more manageable.
What are the Benefits of a Positive Outlook?
The upside of positive thinking—research shows that positive thinking has mental and physical health benefits:
- Those who have a positive outlook tend to have a lower risk of dying from respiratory disease, infection, cancer, stroke, and heart disease.
- Positive thinking may increase life span.
- Positive people may experience fewer colds and faster recovery from illness.
- Higher energy levels are associated with positive thinking.
- Positive thinkers may experience lower rates of depression.
- An overall better quality of life may be associated with positive thinking.
The downside of negative thinking—research shows that negative thinking may be associated with:
- Stress and the release of the stress hormone cortisol. (Too much cortisol production is associated with anxiety, depression, problems concentrating and remembering, digestive issues, sleep challenges, weight gain, and heart disease.)
- Lower immunity.
- A shorter life span.
- Slower metabolism.
- Headaches, body aches, nausea, fatigue, and sleep problems.
- Heart disease, dementia, and stroke.
How You Can Try to Develop a Positive Outlook:
- Identify your areas of negative thinking. Once you’re aware of your thought processes and patterns, you might have a better understanding of how and when negative thoughts take over, and then you can begin to address one situation at a time with a more positive approach.
- Focus on the good. By accepting that life has challenges but also has positive aspects, you can move forward and try to focus on what is going right instead of what is going wrong.
- Try being grateful. Consciously thinking of what you’re grateful for each day can improve your sense of optimism.
- Write it out. Journaling can help. You can write about your problems and try to look at them from different perspectives. A positive option is to keep a gratitude journal. Writing regularly (a few times a week) and being specific about what you’re thankful for can foster positive emotions.
- Let yourself laugh.Research shows that laughter and humor can lower stress, enhance mood, and even strengthen self-esteem.
- Surround yourself with positive people. Try to spend time with people who have a positive outlook. Doom and gloom can be contagious, but so can optimism and positivity. Plus, positive people can be great role models for learning healthy coping skills.
- Check your self-talk. When something goes wrong (or you’re worried it will), your default doesn’t need to be negative. Try considering about what you can learn from the experience to flip the way your outlook.
- Practice acceptance. When something does go wrong, instead of being negative (or even being mad at yourself for not being able muster a positive perspective), try practicing acceptance of the situation. Fighting the feelings may fuel suffering. Radical acceptance—accepting ourselves and the fact that sometimes things are out of our control—can be a powerful practice.
- Be mindful. Mindfulness involves being present in the here and now, paying attention to your five senses. Mindfulness can help interrupt negative thoughts and feelings and keep you in the present instead of worrying about the future or replaying the past.
- Try to identify and reframe cognitive distortions, which are inaccurate thoughts that can reinforce negative feelings. Cognitive distortions can take many forms, such as being so concerned with fairness or a lack of fairness that the result is feelings of resentment and unhappiness; focusing on the negative and filtering out the positive; having all-or-nothing thoughts, such as thinking that if something goes wrong, we are complete failures or everything is wrong; and catastrophizing or expecting and imagining that the very worst will happen. Try to think about more realistic options to cognitive distortions in order to think more positively.
- Practice deep breathing and progressive muscle relaxation to calm stress and interrupt negative thoughts.
- Try to strengthen resilience, which is the ability to bounce back after something difficult happens. Resilience can help you adapt and handle stress more positively. Helpful ways to build resilience include viewing challenges as opportunities for growth, having close, healthy relationships and personal connections with others, and recognizing past successes and current strengths.
- Work on developing positive relationships, both personally and in the workplace. Tips for positive personal connections include being a good listener, understanding different communication styles, helping others succeed, taking others’ perspectives, and being respectful.
- Practice self-care, such as eating nutritious food, getting enough sleep, spending time outside, and exercising. Not only will these healthy habits help you physically, they can also help you regulate your emotions.
- Be kind. Kindness is a win-win. You and others can benefit from it. Kindness boosts levels of serotonin, dopamine, and endorphins in your body, which can give you feelings of satisfaction and pleasure, sure antidotes to negative thoughts. Volunteering and helping others can also be uplifting.
- In conversations, try starting with the positive. Instead of verbalizing the negative, say something positive. For instance, offer a compliment or share something good that happened in your day.
- Start and end your day in a positive way. Mornings can set the tone for the rest of the day. Try to give yourself time to prepare for the day without rush and stress. If it’s going to be a challenging day, try naming something good that will come of it. At the end of the day, think of something that went well. These bookends to your day can help you develop a positive mindset and be ready live with strength, resilience, and optimism.
Marie Miguel has been a writing and research expert for nearly a decade, covering a variety of health- related topics. Currently, she is contributing to the expansion and growth of a free online mental health resource with Mind-Diagnostics.org. With an interest and dedication to addressing stigmas associated with mental health, she continues to specifically target subjects related to anxiety and depression.