Studies show that optimistic people have better overall well-being than pessimists. Research also shows that optimists respond better to depression treatment than others. Then you’ve got popular terms like PMA (positive mental attitude) and ‘good vibes only’. Optimism does seem like the solution for feeling low. But is it true – can you beat depression with optimism? Let’s take a look.
What is the science around optimism?
Plenty of studies have been conducted into the effects of optimism on mental health and overall well-being, with the results overwhelmingly pointing towards better outcomes for optimists. Experts say that many of us are predisposed to a ‘negativity bias’, which means that we sit up and pay more attention to negative, threatening, or scary information than positive or assuring info. The good news is, that’s a very normal part of being human. It’s literally a part of our evolution to be aware of threats and be tuned in to how best to avoid them. But being on high alert for trouble, whilst ignoring the positive, is no way to live a happy and healthy life. So, like anything, balance is important.
Optimists are people who are more likely to ‘look on the bright side’. But it’s actually much more complicated than that. Optimists naturally feel more hopeful about the future, more positive about their current circumstances, and are better able to deal with negative events, information, and emotions. Here are just a few of the things the research tells us:
- Optimists report better mental health and overall well-being than pessimists
- Optimists tend to live longer than those who are not optimistic
- Optimists report lower levels of stress than others
- Optimists are more resilient and better able to bounce back after setbacks
- Optimists enjoy higher levels of motivation than those who are not optimistic
Needless to say, being optimistic is definitely a good thing for your mental health and well-being – the research clearly shows us this. But what about if you’re not a naturally optimistic person?
Can I learn to be an optimist?
Good news – yes! If you’re not a naturally optimistic person, and you’ve found your negativity bias becoming the default method for your brain, there is hope. Experts say that optimism is something we can all learn. Like learning any new skill, it just takes time, repetition, and practice. Here are a few techniques to foster optimism in yourself:
- Be mindful. Mindfulness, such as that achieved with meditation, can help to turn the brain away from negative thinking and more towards positive and neutral thinking – accepting what is, living more in the present moment, and being more hopeful for what’s to come.
- Get outside. Being outdoors can do wonders for the head and the heart. Not only does getting some fresh air and some exercise help the body (which in turn helps the mind with all kinds of positive chemicals), but it also helps to get out of the house or office and clear your mind of negative thoughts. Try it sometime!
- Surround yourself with positive people. Motivational speaker, Jim Rohn, once famously said that we are the sum of the five people we spend the most time with. So, it stands to reason that if you’re surrounded by negative people, you’re more likely to be negative about things. Whereas, if you surround yourself with people who are optimistic, it becomes easier to see the world in a positive light.
- Be intentional. Being more optimistic takes practice, but what are you practicing exactly? It’s quite simple, actually – you need to practice being positive. Start by beginning each day with a positive intention, like “I am going to be productive at work today” or “I am going to enjoy cooking dinner/going to the gym/talking with a friend today”, or go as big as “I am going to have a wonderful day today!” It might sound silly, but it can make a real difference to set your intention for the day.
- Turn that frown upside down. Confronting your own negative thinking can be very powerful, especially for anyone struggling with depression or anxiety. When something unfortunate happens, try reframing your thoughts. Instead of going into panic mode or sadness, ask yourself, “is this really the end of the world? What can I do to change this, or can I try for a better outcome next time?”
- See a counsellor or psychologist. The fact is, being optimistic doesn’t come easily to a lot of people, and you may need support and expert strategies for rewiring your brain for positivity. Seeing a counsellor or psychologist is the best way to become an optimist.
Can optimism help me beat depression?
If you’re someone who struggles with depression, you’re probably sick to death of people telling you to ‘just think positive’ or ‘get over it’. We call this toxic positivity and it can do more harm than good. The truth is, depression is much more complex than being pessimistic or optimistic.
Pessimism is an integral part of depression, for sure. With the cloud of depression overhanging, it can be extremely difficult to think optimistically and after a while, we can lose the ability to be objective, let alone positive. But just being more positive about things isn’t going to see you beat depression. First of all, you should know that there is nothing wrong with you, for not being able to ‘just be happy’. And that depression is a symptom of bigger issues that need exploration and understanding in order to work towards effective treatment. There are a number of things you can do right now, from your own home, to start to combat depression (read more in our recent article here). But the next step in overcoming depression is reaching out for help.
Reaching out is, unfortunately, very difficult for some depression sufferers. Depression often tells you that you don’t need help, that no one can help, or that you don’t deserve help. You must understand that this is the depression speaking, and it has no basis in reality. Here at Integrated Health Specialists, we are experts in helping people overcome depression. Not only can you learn to become more optimistic, but you can discover techniques that tackle the root causes behind your depression and build new strategies for living a happier and more fulfilling life. Connect with us today to get started and beat the hold depression has over your life.