Optimism: Are Your Dandelions Weeds or Wishes?
Spring daylight, Spring blooms, Spring training, Spring housing booms. Spring prompts a sense of reawakening, hopefulness and possibility for many people. In other words, OPTIMISM, which has many emotional and physical benefits including better cholesterol, stronger immune system, lower risk of stroke, healthier emotional coping and an overall longer life expectancy.
1.a disposition or tendency to look on the more favorable side of events or conditions and to expect the most favorable outcome.
2.the belief that good ultimately predominates over evil in the world.
In the last 2 weeks we’ve sprung ahead an hour, enjoyed one sunny 65 degree day, and leapt into Spring (albeit with snow falling). Despite this last trick from Mother Nature, I’ve noticed and increased sense of optimism in people. I’ll admit: I’ve been accused on occasion of being an optimist myself and if this means my optimism is stronger than my pessimism then yes, I’m guilty as charged. This Spring-onset optimism may very well be the antithesis of the depressive-type symptoms that many experience throughout the Winter, most notably as Seasonal Affective Disorder, a condition I highlighted in a previous column. This Winter was rough for many people, myself included, so while in the midst of feeling helpless on various occasions, I sometimes chuckled at my own self-talk: saying things like “well, at least all of the pipes didn’t burst” or “good, only one kid is sick this week” and on many mornings, reminding myself that “today is a new day”. Essentially, while acknowledging my helplessness, I was also grateful for what else was true rather than dwelling mostly on the negative. Optimism is not about ignoring or denying reality but actually acknowledging reality, accepting reality, actively seeking solutions, and moving forward. People who are more optimistic approach life expecting a positive outcome and therefore, make decisions and take actions based on this. And even if things don’t go as desired, they tend to find some value in the experience. Fortunately, research shows that optimism is not limited to the wealthy, the privileged or those whose lives are strife-free. Lest anyone think that optimism is impossible in the face of extraordinary circumstances or hardships, I recall the many men and women with whom I’ve worked who’ve endured tremendous tragedies and suffering who remained or found some purpose, the silver lining, again, accepting the reality of their situation and taking meaningful action about or in response to it.
A few strategies to strengthen your own optimism:
The practice of gratitude. Gratitude may be the very foundation of one’s ability to see possibility, opportunity, and the good in otherwise hurtful, frustrating, or disappointing experiences. Start a gratitude journal in a notebook, your phone or calendar. Make note of both the big and little things.
Pay attention to your self-talk and remind yourself to consider the positive, starting with “at least…” and turn your “I can’t..” statements into “I’ll try…” or “Maybe…”. Remember The Little Engine That Could?
Surround yourself with positive people whenever possible. This may mean declining lunch with a group of gossiping complaining co-workers, for instance.
Seek out positive news and inspirational stories. There is no shortage of horror competing for our attention on the news and “likes” on social media, but there are plenty of sources full of the opposite. Examples include www.theoptimist.com or http://www.huffingtonpost.com/good-news/ or join my “Good Matters” group on Facebook.
I’d like to leave you with a visual that represents optimism to me: imagine children in a field of dandelions that have gone to seed. What do they see? An abundance of possibilities to be delicately picked, wishes to make, hopefulness. What do we see? Do we only see weeds that must be painstakingly yanked out of the ground or killed? Who says wishes can’t come true?