8 Ways to Choose Optimism Over Pessimism

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Is your cup half empty or half full? Your answer to this question says a lot about you, your health, and your happiness. At a time when the world could really use it, it pays to be optimistic. Not only are optimistic people more enjoyable to be around, research shows that they are healthier, do better in school, age more gracefully, and are less depressed; they also approach life’s difficulties in a more productive way.

Even though people have genetic predispositions toward optimism or pessimism, it is absolutely possible to change your outlook and shift toward a more positive way of seeing the world. Here are eight ways you can shift from seeing the glass as half empty to seeing the glass half full of water and half full of possibilities.

1. Think More Positive Thoughts

As obvious as it sounds, it is helpful to start noticing negative thinking and to try on positivity for size.

What do you tend to complain about? Imagine how an optimist would handle your situation, and fake it until you make it. This not only helps you shift perspective on that specific situation, but it also trains your brain to start reacting to situations in more positive and productive ways in the future.

Example: You sit in traffic every morning on your way to work. Try looking at the time as a gift, in which you can catch up on phone calls, listen to an audiobook, or catch up on your favorite podcast.

2. Laugh More

Brighten your outlook by improving your sense of humor. Training yourself to laugh when things don’t go your way can illuminate the creativity of the universe and snap you out of your woe-is-me attitude.

Example: You make a mistake in your work presentation. Make a joke, and laugh it off! Not only does it break the tension for everyone, but it shows that you don’t take yourself too seriously.

3. Have Someone Who Can Provide Perspective

Do you have a positive person in your life who can help bring you down to earth when you feel like the world is crumbling around you? (If not, you might want to find new friends!) Negativity is contagious, but so is positivity. Surround yourself with people who lift you up and help you look on the bright side, and you will become more resilient to life’s curveballs.

Example: You get fired from your job, and go into a panic. Rather than worrying that you will get evicted, be homeless, etc., a positive person in your life can help you see that by virtue of the fact that it’s occurring in your life, it is a necessary chapter in your story. Perhaps leaving this job will help you find an even better one. Maybe taking a little time off will help you see that it’s time to go back to school. Or maybe it will be at your next job that you meet the love of your life. A positive friend can usually see with a broader perspective than you can when you are in the thick of it.

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4. Focus on Solutions

Pessimists tend to focus on the problem, while optimists focus on the solution. When you’re faced with a challenge, train your brain to work toward coming up with creative ways to solve your conundrum. The more energy you give to the problem itself, the more you amplify it. By looking for ways to solve your problems, you keep your momentum moving forward, rather than wallowing in negativity.

Example: Your application for college or grad school is rejected. Rather than wallowing in your disappointment, turn your attention to the other applications you have submitted, and trust that you will end up at the perfect place at the perfect time.

5. Find the Silver Lining

Look at the bright side of a bad situation by acknowledging that it could always be worse. When bad things happen, pessimists tend to internalize the negativity, while optimists recognize it could always be worse. Try saying to yourself, “Well, at least …”, as in “well, at least it wasn’t raining when I got locked out of the house” or, “at least I wasn’t going any faster, or my speeding ticket would have been twice as expensive.” Recognizing things could always be worse not only pulls you out of your own head, but increases your empathy for others who do encounter those “worse” situations.

Example: You get a flat tire on the way to work. While it is definitely annoying to get a flat tire, you could recognize that at least you are safe and have heat in the car while you wait for help. You could even consider what you may have gained from the situation (for example, waiting for the tow truck gave you the chance to have a deep conversation with your teenage child who was in the car with you).

6. View Your Setbacks as Temporary

“If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” While everyone faces challenges in life, optimists view their setbacks as temporary, while pessimists tend to view setbacks far more dramatically, and usually see their conditions as permanent.

Example: You quit smoking, but you cave and have a cigarette. An optimistic person would view it as a setback and try again. A pessimist might take it as an indication that he or she has no willpower, and might just give up on trying to quit smoking at all.

7. Limit Your Time Spent on the News

It feels like Chicken Little is always saying that the sky is falling. Watching the news in this day and age is relatively counterproductive to your feeling of positivity for the future. If the news makes you anxious, change the channel! Or, turn it off all together and trust that you’ll know what you need to know, when you need to know it.

Example: Instead of watching reports of tragedies, catastrophes, and the worst of human behavior, tune in to media sources that point the way toward hope. Positive social media accounts, inspirational blogs, and websites with positive content will actually lift you up, and inspire you to be a force for good in the world.

8. Expect the Best

Optimists reduce their mind-created suffering by choosing to expect that things will work out for the best. Optimists also try not to take other people’s actions personally. By recognizing that everyone has their own story, and the world is not out to get you, you will start to release paranoid thoughts and experience a deeper sense of peace.

Example: When your phone rings or you receive an unexpected letter in the mail, try to anticipate the best rather than expect the worst. Or if you are a teacher and someone in your class is frowning, give them the benefit of the doubt that they are just having a bad day, rather than assuming they are angry with you. 

Expect the best from people, and they usually rise up to meet you. Expect the worst from the world, and you will usually get proof of what you were trying to avoid. Today is an excellent day to try to bring more positivity into your life, but it starts with you. Believe that you can change your habits of thought, and you will. Just a few shifts in your perspective can make all the difference on the road to a happier, healthier life.

Now get out there, and make some lemonade.


Ready to start flowing with the Universe, instead of against it? Learn a natural, effortless style of meditation that helps make every day feel easy, fresh, and fulfilling with Basics of Meditation, a self-paced online course guided by Deepak Chopra. Learn More.


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About the Author

Karson McGinley

Yoga Teacher and Life Coach
Karson McGinley is the founder of Happy-U Yoga (a Holistic Approach to Positive Psychology & Yoga), based in San Diego. A teacher for over a decade, Karson works to bridge the gap between the ancient wisdom of yoga and the modern science of human flourishing through her classes, regular contributions to the Chopra Center’s catalogue of wellness articles, and leading the Happy-U Yoga & Positive Psychology Teacher Training program. Karson teaches Hatha, Vinyasa, and Anusara Elements™ classes, inspired by the teachings of Classical and Tantric yogic philosophy, positive psychology, and metaphysical texts like A Course in Miracles . By sharing spiritual themes, scientific...Read more