An Optimist’s Guide To Navigating Life


“A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.” ~ Winston Churchill 

Do you believe that good things will happen in the future? Do you expect things to work out for the best? Do you think that even good things can come from negative events–that challenges or obstacles are opportunities to learn? Are you grateful for the good things in your life? Answering yes to these questions may mean you are an optimist. If life sometimes gets you down, read on to understand how you can change your perceptions during these difficult times. 

The dictionary defines an optimist as someone who tends to be hopeful and confident about the future, who believes that this world is full of good people and that good will ultimately prevail.  An optimist is someone who sees the glass as half full instead of half empty. Optimists see challenges, hardships, and problems as opportunities to stretch and learn. With optimists, there is no end to goodness in the world–even if it has to radiate from themselves.

There are significant benefits to being an optimist. Studies regularly show that optimists are more likely to maintain overall better physical health than pessimists, including a 50% lower risk of cardiovascular disease and greater survival rates when fighting cancer. Optimists are more grateful, successful and persistent–they do not give up as easily as pessimists, and they are more likely to achieve success because of it. They work towards and are more likely to accomplish their goals, even in the face of obstacles, challenges, and setbacks. Additionally, a retrospective study of 34 healthy Hall of Fame baseball players who played between 1900 and 1950, showed that optimists lived significantly longer…optimism can lead to longer life! Optimists also live with less stress than pessimists because they believe in themselves and their abilities, and they expect good things to happen. They see negative events as minor setbacks to overcome and view positive events as evidence of further good things to come. 

If you want all of these benefits (plus many more), but you feel concerned that you could never truly BE an optimist, I have news for you. Research suggests that genetics determine only about 25% of your optimism levels, and environmental variables out of your control (such as your socioeconomic status) also play a marginal role. This means that you can actively improve your attitude and make changes should you choose! Whether you tend to be more pessimistic or optimistic, the following are steps you can take to help cultivate a more optimistic attitude:

  1. Gratitude. Gratitude is an appreciation for what is good and right and important in life–regardless of difficult life circumstances. One study found that participants who were assigned to write in a gratitude journal showed increased optimism and resilience. At the end of the day, take ten minutes to go through your day and acknowledge things you are grateful for.  This will help you notice good things as they happen. Write them down in a journal or use any of a multitude of apps available on your phone/tablet.
  2. Mindfulness. Mindfulness is a focus on being engaged, attentive, and present in the moment. It can be a useful technique to help you focus on what matters in the present and avoid worrying about future events and things that are outside of your control. Living fully in the moment allows you to feel more appreciative of what you have now and less consumed with regrets and anxieties.
  3. Thought work.  Thought work is such an interesting field of study taking more of the limelight lately–and for good reason! If you can change your thoughts, you can change your feelings, emotions, and behavior. So if you can train your mind to think you can make good of whatever comes your way in life, you can actually start to believe that! You will see specific things you can do to succeed and will be motivated to do so. Instead of thinking, “I failed that test because I suck at trig,” tell yourself, “I failed that test because I did not study enough. I will not let that happen again!” Instead of saying, “Jason broke up with me because I am a loser,” think, “This is painful, but I am worthy of love and belonging and hanging out with my friends will help me feel better.” Uplifting, proactive thought processes can help you OUT of self-deprecating patterns and on to more positive actions. The more you practice challenging your thought patterns, the more automatic it will become.
  4. Positive affirmations.  How you talk to yourself influences how you feel about and see yourself. You may not realize how poorly you treat yourself until you start observing your self-talk. Focus on what you can do, stop putting yourself down, and regularly affirm yourself. 
  5. Setbacks. Remember that setbacks are temporary teachers. When something goes wrong, remind yourself that it will pass.  Acknowledge the things you will learn from having to pivot and problem solve. Remember that virtually any failure can be a learning experience, as well as an important step toward your next success! 

Remember, genetics only determine a quarter of your optimism levels. Whether you consider yourself to be optimistic or not at this present moment, you can always improve and see your life through more of a half-full lens. Simple acts like practicing mindfulness and gratitude, journaling, focusing on your thoughts and repeating positive affirmations are great steps to get you going in the right direction. The benefits to being optimistic are clear. The world is a dark and hard enough place that you and I can rise above and be a bright light–for your sake as well as for all those around us!

Melissa Cluff is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist based in North Texas, providing face-to-face and telehealth therapy options to clients in Texas.


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Melissa Cluff, MS, LMFT, CSAT

Melissa Cluff is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist based in North Texas, providing face-to-face and telehealth therapy options to clients in Texas.