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The Habits of the Optimist

Some people are born optimists.  The rest of us need to work on it!

Here's our collection of habits you can adopt to be more optimistic and you can share with others to help them become more optimistic.  Rather than trying to adopt them all at once, pick one and give it a go for a week or two.

1. Smile Like an Optimist

Chris Norman on Smiling like an Optimist

Smile Like an Optimist

Start the day smiling at your housemates be they spouse, children and parents. This can be hard but give it a go!  Keep it going when you leave the house. 

Smile at strangers and say good morning. 

Remember to add smilies to your messages.

Smile Like an Optimist


2.  Laugh like an Optimist

University studies have shown laughter can improve your immune system. increase disease fighting antibodies and lower inflammation in the body. Laughter increases heart rate and blood flow, and has similar health benefits to exercising. Endorphins are released during laughter, which helps to relieve pain, reduce cravings and stress, and slow the ageing process.

3. Ask Yourself  "What makes you Optimistic?"

Asking this question is at the core of The Centre for Optimism's work and research.

Ask yourself this question "What makes you Optimistic?"

What makes you believe that good things will happen and that things will work out in the end?

Take a piece of paper or use the keyboard and record your answer “What makes you optimistic?”  

Is it the opportunities to come?  Life experience?  Positive family and friends?  Your mindset?

If you’re ready, share your answer in our million voices of optimism project.

We’ve collected thousands of answers and there are no repeats - each of us has a different set of reasons to believe all will be well in the future - that things will work out.

Amongst my favourites, is a neuroscientist’s answer "Optimism is the evidence for the dreams yet to be realised.”

Or a journalist’s “Optimism is our best chance to be alive instead of just live.”

Make this a regular habit.  Some people read a daily optimism affirmation and answer the question on a daily basis.  We’d recommend once a month - set aside 15 minutes.

Asking yourself this question helps you look to the future with a more positive and optimistic lens.  It makes the present happier.

The science says it’s likely you will be happier and healthier.

If you share your optimism with others, it’s likely that you will lift their spirits. 

And if you ask them what makes them optimistic, you will be even more infectiously optimistic.

4. Ask Others "What makes you Optimistic?"

Ask someone you love and admire this question "What makes you Optimistic?"

Each time you do this, you will lift the person and yourself.

The chances are you are the first person to ask them that question.  Most people will pause and respond with a bright and happy answer.

Some will be confused and you may need to prompt them.  The definition of optimism is a belief that things will work out in the end.  Some people add "if it hasn't worked out, it's not the end."

If you have asked online, you can share some thought starters from "The Optimists on Optimism."

What about capturing it on video?  Or write down the answer.  Share your answer in our million voices of optimism project.

This is a brilliant regular exercise at any Board, Executive or Team Meeting. Much better than that tedious negative question "What's keeping you awake at night."  Other than loud noises, very few things keeps the optimist awake at night.

We don't think it's an every meeting practice - your underlying source of optimism shouldn't change so often; Quarterly or monthly to open a meeting is a very useful way of keeping team spirits up.

5. Think Like an Optimist

It's a habit involving you contradicting negative thoughts as they appear. 

Not every cloud has a silver lining but people often ruminate negatively on small matters.

"Put it in Perspective" - An Exercise for These Times Finding Silver Linings

David Mann

Anand Kulkarni

6.  Daydream Like an Optimist

Visualisation and daydreaming are powerful human tendencies.  They are very healthy and can be harnessed to make you more optimistic and more infectiously optimistic.  Visualise your best possible self and imagine a future in which all your goals have been achieved.   The experts suggest writing it down.  Personally, I keep it in a document on my computer which I review once a month.  There’s good evidence that it is a way of lifting yourself and those around you.  Try it now.

7.  Use the Language of Optimism

If you can fit in an optimism word or phrase into any piece of writing, you will lift the reader. 

As Dr. KH Kim wrote, "Research has shown that you can develop your optimistic attitude by practicing positive speech and actions in everyday activities. Then, refine your outlook by taking a positive path forward in every circumstance.

You'll get the idea from the "sweet words of optimism resource" on this website.  

We also suggest you experiment with changing your greetings and your response to the question, "How are you?"  See Habit 7!

Gayle Hardie on Using The Language of an Optimist

8.  Infectiously Optimistic Greetings

Try out some new ways of greeting people and responding to greetings.  

Instead of say, "How are you?" Try "What's the best thing happening for you"

Instead of responding "Not bad." or "Not too bad" try a pause...  "Thanks for asking, I have just had an interesting..."

Read Better Greetings

9. Write, Share and Display Positive Affirmations

Reading the thoughts of others is positive - imagine the greater strength of focusing on your own wisdom and insights and writing them down. There’s evidence that it is a way of lifting yourself and those around you.  Share them with others face-to-face and on social media when you feel the quality merits it. Writing down short statements can help remind you of your strengths.  While I don’t like yellow post-its, many people do and you can leave those affirmations in places to help you, family and friends.

10. Manage your Time lIke an Optimist

When you receive an invitation, ask yourself the questions "Will this bring me great joy?  Will this advance my mission?  Is it something I must do?"  If the invitation doesn't meet any of those three criteria, say no!  These are my three rules of time management.  Of course, sometimes I break them because people ask for help in areas and I haven't learned to say no.

11.  Surround Yourself with Optimistic People

Generally, optimists attract other optimists, and those other optimists will boost your own optimism, joy and happiness.  It can become a virtuous circle, but you first need to seek it out or set it up.  Choose your company wisely and limit the time you spend with people who do not fill your cup of optimism and self-confidence.  Lead the conversation with positive questions.  Prepare for gatherings by bringing to mind positive stories you have heard or read recently.

Meghan, Duchess of Sussex says ”it’s so important to surround yourself with people who are grounded and really optimistic.”

Read more on Surrounding Yourself with Optimists


12.  The Optimist Reduces their Reliance on "The News"

There is a lot of evidence to show that most media "news outlets" have become more and more negative over the last 50 years to the point where they are almost all biased to pessimism, bad-news, dischord and dissension.

An Experiment:  Don’t listen to or read the news till you leave for work.  Try this for one week. 

Ask your family, housemates and colleagues to share positive stories they read or hear.

 Read More on the  Optimist's News Diet 


13. Share Stories of Hope and Optimism

14.  Forgive and Forget like an Optimist

15.  Practice Gratitude like an Optimist

Gratitude is one of the underpinnings of optimism.  While striving to reach our goals, it’s important to feel grateful for what we have today.

The science on this is clear. Respected university studies show that habits of being consciously thankful make people more optimistic for an extended time and more optimistic about their lives in general. 

There  are two elements to this. 

The first is to actively thank people more often.  Thank people face to face, make sure to send messages, gifts and the practices you know so well.  You know this well but in our hectic lives it's too easy to forget to say thanks rather than sorry.

The second is to record your gratitude regularly and preferably on a daily basis.  Ideally, keep a journal - best in hard-copy - buy a beautiful or elegant notebook for this purpose.  Some people prefer to keep this as a file on their computer or smart-phone, that’s fine too - whatever works best for you.  Write down three things for which you were grateful today.  First thing in the morning before radio or news, read back what you wrote last night.

Read More on the Practice of Gratitude 

16. Meditate and Pray for Optimism

Meditation enhances your optimism.   Meditations on optimism and related topics can strengthen your optimism even more.  So too prayer.  

17.  Learn like an Optimist

“Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.”
Gandhi

This is also expressed well by Harvey Deutschendorf, who wrote, "Being optimistic lets us believe that the future will be even better than the past. Optimists look forward to what’s to come with excitement and anticipation, not trepidation. Management guru Peter Drucker, who lived into his nineties, made it a goal to learn one new thing every year. One year he learned to speak Japanese. Not only does learning support us in our efforts to think more optimistically, it equips us with the actual skills we’ll need to achieve our goals and take advantage of opportunities when they do show up."

18.  Compassionate Like an Optimist

Parneet Pal on Self-Compassion

Loving Kindness Meditation

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Some Other Suggestions to Enhance your Optimism

  • Seek out activities that bring you joy.
  • Do someone else a favour.
  • Accept that the world is chaotic
  • Go to beautiful places: Get out into Nature and breath in the fresh air and beautiful vistas.
  • Don't give into negativity bias.

Irene O'Graden

"Connect with your body. We don’t need faith or intention — if we have a body we have the basis for optimism. Start by closing your eyes. Experience your own tremendous vitality. “My body knows what it is doing. My breath is coming in and out of it. It wants to be here. It’s designed to heal itself. My heart is pumping. My senses work automatically and bring me some kind of gladness every day.” For extra endorphins, take a bath, a walk, or workout."

Read "Yoga and Optimism"

More Materials on Optimism Habits

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