Learn how to lighten your outlook

Have you ever looked on in awe, or with envy, at the positivity of others? Optimism isn’t just genetics or good fortune; it’s an empowering skill—one that comes with many benefits to our well-being. Here’s why—and how—to cultivate optimism.

Explanatory styles

Our explanatory style is the way in which we explain things—events, circumstances and consequences—to ourselves. It’s our inside voice that chimes in about whether, for example, we deserve whatever good just happened.

Psychologist Dr. Diana Brecher explains that “Optimists and pessimists interpret the same event differently and attribute causality in opposite ways.”

An optimist’s outlook

An optimist will recognize their role in fostering a good result, believe that it could continue and see those positive effects infusing other areas of their life. When something unpleasant or negative happens, an optimist understands this as temporary and situation-specific.

A pessimist’s perspective

A pessimist will explain away good things that occur as being short-lived and happenstance; in that same vein, a pessimist believes that a negative event is permanent, pervasive and largely their fault or even deserved.

Practising perspective

Moving the dial toward optimism isn’t about shirking responsibility for harm we cause or simplifying all life events into “good” or “bad”; nor is optimism reserved for those with fewer demands or stressors. Optimism is a key component for personal and professional flourishing.

Happier and healthier

Research shows that optimism can have profound effects on our health.

  • Because optimism is the very opposite of hopelessness, optimists may be less at risk for depressive disorders.
  • Optimists are more resilient in the face of stressful life events. Put simply, an optimistic outlook can help us cope.
  • Optimism not only can act as a buffer for the stresses and hassles of the day to day, but also can serve as a buoy during the toughest life events, including sickness or disease.
  • An optimistic outlook may improve physical health, from improved immune function to faster recovery from illness, not to mention longevity—optimists also live longer!
  • Optimists show higher levels of effort toward achieving their goals, whereas pessimists are likelier to withdraw or disengage from attempts at achieving a goal.

Flip your frame

Holding an optimistic outlook is a skill. The first step is to “notice that you have defaulted into your pessimistic frame of reference. Then, have [these] six questions handy. You can mobilize yourself into action by answering them,” explains Brecher.

In good times, ask:

  • What role did I play in making this happen?
  • How can I make the good times continue?
  • What can I do to have this spill over into other aspects of my life?

In bad times, ask:

  • In what way is this also the responsibility of others or circumstances beyond my control?
  • How can I keep this temporary?
  • What must I do to contain the damage of the long-term effects of this event?