I will prepare and someday my chance will come (Abraham Lincoln)
I recently heard an interview where teenagers in their final year of high school expressed how they felt about the impact of the COVID pandemic on their respective lives. One young lady said: “I feel like the best years of my life have been stolen, just taken away from me. My whole social circle has been kept at a distance. It’s quite sad”. A young man quietly replied: “Yes, that may be true, but I have increased my social connections exponentially during this time through social media. Now I have friends all over the world, which would probably not have happened had there been no pandemic”.
It’s intriguing how two young people can see the situation caused by the pandemic so differently. While one found it to be totally limiting, the other found it to liberating, opening new opportunities and possibilities. Being optimistic, even in the face of adversity, is not necessarily delusional or fantastical approaches, but rather an attempt to find potential solutions and chart a path forward for oneself. Optimism is an attitude reflecting a belief or hope that the outcome of some specific endeavour, or outcomes in general, will be positive, favourable, and desirable. It thus reflects a belief that future conditions will work out for the best. For this reason, it is seen as a trait that fosters resilience in the face of stress.
We can train our minds to find the good in every situation. Positively approaching difficult situations and asking the question: “What’s possible?” will guide your brain to start processing potential solutions. You can help yourself and others become more optimistic by consciously challenging negative, self-limiting thinking and replacing it with more optimistic thought patterns. This process, typically called cognitive restructuring, could involve the following:
- Identify the situations that are triggering negative thoughts or moods.
- Assess how you are feeling in the moment.
- Identify the negative thoughts that you are having in response to the situation.
- Look at the evidence to either support or refute your negative thoughts.
- Focus on the objective facts, and replace automatic negative thoughts with more positive, realistic ones.
While it is difficult to step back, reflect on your feelings and thoughts and decide on approaching the situation differently, there are many benefits of cultivating an optimistic attitude, some of which follow:
- Better health – Elizabeth Scott, in VeryWellMind, notes: “Studies regularly show that optimists are more likely to maintain better physical health than pessimists, including a 50% lower risk of cardiovascular disease and greater survival rates when fighting cancer”. Pessimism, on the other hand, is often associated with higher rates of infectious disease, poor health, and earlier mortality.
- Better heart – in a Harvard study, Optimism and Your Health, research points to the fact that optimism appears to protect the heart and circulation. In fact, over a 30-year period, optimism was linked to a better outcome on eight measures of physical and mental function and health.
- Better humour – the Harvard study also shows the following: “Experienced clinicians know that humour is good medicine. Now researchers in Tennessee tell us it may also provide a bit of a workout. They found that genuine, voiced laughter boosts energy consumption and heart rate by 10% to 20%. That means a 10- to 15-minute belly laugh might burn anywhere from 10 to 40 calories. It’s a lot of laughing for a few calories, but optimists will be tickled by the result”.
- Better wholeness – optimistic approaches also enable people to think through issues that they face more clearly, make more informed decisions, and put their energy into actions that lead to success.
- Better hygiene (mentally) – optimism provides the platform to work through anxiety and the stressors that trigger negativity in our brains and encourages a solution-focused approach to challenging circumstances.
Optimism is a choice. It is not a delusional approach where one ignores reality, but it is rather a cultivated attitude where one deliberately chooses to seek solutions, possibilities, and opportunities. This hopeful outlook will influence others positively as well.