Adopting an Optimistic Mindset: 6 Major Benefits To Your Well-Being
Updated: Mar 22
One of the greatest things about movies lies in their power to transport us to another world - a form of escapism but the very best movies inspire and leave an indelible mark on our minds. The Life of Pi is one of those films. I've seen it numerous times, each time there's something new to see and glean from this cinematic masterpiece. As well as amazing cinematography, the film has unbelievable depth and meaning. Pi, the main character has to find a way to survive 227 days on a lifeboat with only a zebra, a hyena, an orangutan and a 450lb Bengal tiger for company after a shipwreck that killed all his family.
"I tell you, if you were in such dire straits as I was, you too would elevate your thoughts. The lower you are, the higher your mind will want to soar"
The story, at face value, could be seen simply as an adventure story of survival - man versus tiger as Pi is alone on the 27foot lifeboat after the gruesome deaths of the other animals. However, the story is a powerful allegory, in essence about the power of optimism and resilience. How Pi is able to make sense of the tragic loss of his family and is able to successfully rebuild his life finding happiness.
The fallacy of optimism: viewing life with rose-tinted glasses?
The film shines a powerful light on the value of optimism, no matter what situation or events you have gone through. But optimism is not about looking at life through rose-tinted spectacles and ignoring the reality of what is happening and putting a positive spin on anything and everything. In fact, failure to recognise negative events and deal with reality can be harmful to you. It is important to address the issues which hinder you from reaching your goals. Failure to do so will only serve to leave you in a rut or living in a fantasy.
Instead, optimism is a set of beliefs that helps individuals to reflect on the positive aspects of life rather than the negative ones.
"Optimists acknowledge negative events, but they are more likely to avoid blaming themselves for the bad outcome, inclined to view the situation as a temporary one and are likely to expect further positive events in the future"
Dr Aparner Iyer, psychiatrist and assistant professor at the Univesity of Texas Southwestern Medical Center.
In essence, optimistic people let go of negativity, worry less and shift their attention to the positive quicker.
Is there a relationship between optimism and resilience?
Yes, according to a study published in the Clinical Psychology Review. Other studies also show that optimism is a key trait of resilience. People who are resilient (are able to deal with and recover from adversity) tend to be more positive and optimistic compared to less resilient people.
A compelling study was undertaken by Dennis Charney, Dean of Mount Sinai School of Medicine looked at data from 750 Vietnam war veterans who were held captive between 6 to 8 years. Despite their hardships - torture and solitary confinement, these men showed high levels of resilience. From extensive interviews and tests, the top characteristic of their resilience was optimism.
Resilient people are good at bouncing back because they are emotionally complex. They are able to respond to adversity through their ability to use a much broader range of emotions. For example, in another study, participants were asked to write down the most important problem they were facing in their lives. Whilst resilient people faced the same levels of anxiety as less resilient people, they also revealed more happiness, interest and eagerness to solve their problem. For resilient people, high levels of positive emotions co-exist with negative emotions. As Pi says in regard to his desperate situation;
"I tell you, if you were in such dire straits as I was, you too would elevate your thoughts. The lower you are, the higher your mind will want to soar."
What are the main benefits of adopting an optimistic mindset?
Various studies have shown a wide range of significant benefits. (E.g. Forgeard and Seligman 2012, Cang, Yu and Hirsch, 2013, Klumper, Little and DeGroot, 2009). These include:
Better physical health (such as better cardiovascular health and a stronger immune system)range
More successful relationships
Lower levels of depression
Ability to see more opportunities
As Emily Esfahani Smith so eloquently states:
"When your mind starts soaring, you notice more positive things. This unleashes an upward spiral of positive emotions and new ways of seeing the world - to new ways forward. They see opportunities negative people don't. Negativity...puts you in defence mode, narrows your field of vision and shuts you off to new possibilities, since they're seen as risks."
How to develop optimistic habits
There are several ways to improve your levels of optimism. It has been scientifically proven that by altering your thought processes, you can rewire your brain.
1 Positive Reframing
Make a conscious effort to reframe adverse scenarios in a positive light. This will help train your brain in a different manner. and in time change your thinking patterns to negative events. There are several methods to help you do this, whether through self-coaching or through the use of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) or using the help of an experienced resilience coach.
2 Spend less time with negative people
Negativity can be contagious - avoid or spend less time with people who have a negative mindset as these people are likely to drag your mood down and affect you in a detrimental way. Conversely, spend much more time with optimistic, happy people - you are much more likely to benefit from their positive energy.
3 Show Gratitude
Studies show that writing a journal expressing gratitude is linked to greater feelings of optimism. This also occurs when you write about acts of kindness you have done.
4 Use Positive Affirmations
These are simply positive statements about yourself which if repeated frequently create a powerful message which is absorbed into your subconscious (e.g. " I am confident and capable in what I do"). Using positive affirmations has been proven to bring benefits to a person's emotional and physical well being (Deekshitulu 2015).
There are proven health benefits from this simple act. Smiling releases endorphins from your brain which helps reduce stress and uplifts your mood.
This is not an exhaustive list; there are also several other habits that can also help to bring about an optimistic mindset. I explain these and others in detail on my resilience course.
Being optimistic plays an important role in our wellness and in developing our resilience. What's more, optimism is not an inherited trait; only approximately 25% of our attitudes are inherited, which means learning to be optimistic is a skill and trait which can be learned with practice and guidance. Given all the benefits, why wouldn't you want to be optimistic?
If you want to learn more about this topic or any other topic from my previous blogs, please email me at info@XtraClarity.com. I'd be delighted to hear from you.