In the last issue, we introduced the book, "The How of Happiness" by Prof Sonja Lyubomirsky, on 12 simple and effective exercises for achieving lasting happiness. We also introduced the first Happiness Exercise, "Expressing Gratitude".
The second exercise is "Cultivating Optimism". Cultivating optimism has a lot in common with cultivating gratitude. Both strategies involve the habit of striving to make out the positive side of your situation. Building optimism moreover involves positive expectation about future.
Myths about optimism
Learning to be optimistic doesn't mean providing a recipe of self-deception. Being optimistic involves a choice of how you see the world. It doesn’t mean denying the negative or avoiding all unfavourable information. Research indeed shows the optimists are more vigilant of risk and threat, and they are also very much aware that positive outcomes are dependent on their efforts.
Advantages of being optimistic
Optimistic thought can be a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you perceive an outcome as attainable, you will persist in your plan even if you hit obstacles or if progress is slow. Moreover, optimistic thinking prompts us to engage in active and effective coping. Optimists are more likely to make plans and take direct action when faced with adversity. Needless to say, optimistic thinking promotes positive moods, vitality and high morale.
"Best Possible Selves" diary
If optimism fits your lifestyle and personality, you can employ the following "Best Possible Selves" diary to practise optimistic thinking:
"Sit in a quiet place and take 20 minutes to think about what you expect your life to be in five or 10 years from now on. Visualise a future for yourself in which everything has turned out the way you want. You have tried your best, worked hard and achieved all of your goals. Now describe in writing what you imagine."
Research found that people who wrote about their visions for 20 minutes per day over several days, compared with those who wrote about other topics, were more likely to have more positive moods, be happier several weeks later, and even report fewer physical ailments several months thence.
Cultivating optimism as a habit
To reap the benefits of an excellent happiness-enhancing exercise, you have to practise a lot. The above writing exercise in a sense puts your optimistic "muscles" into practice. The more you rehearse optimistic thoughts, the more "natural" and "ingrained" they will become. With time they will become part of you, and you will be a happy person.
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