How optimism can boost health and happiness

Staying upbeat is tricky when the future feels uncertain. But these mind hacks will give you the best chance of approaching life optimistically.

Challenging life events, such as the Covid-19 pandemic, death, divorce or business failure, can suck your hope for the future – at least temporarily.

Here are five ways to feel more optimistic.

1. Get out of the loop

“Staying optimistic during trying times has a lot to do with stopping the loop of catastrophic thinking,” clinical psychologist Dr Martine Prunty says.

Get stuck in this distressing loop, and you’ll find yourself ruminating over the worst-case (and probably most unlikely) scenario, according to Dr Prunty.

She suggests instead staying in the present moment by calmly bringing your mind back each time your thoughts begin to spiral.

Ask yourself: “Of that big worry, what parts of that are within my control?”

2. Force yourself into action

While you may have no interest in heading out for a walk, Dr Prunty says taking small actions, or doing something to address a worry, will likely generate motivation.

“A big mistake that people make these days is they wait to feel motivated to engage in something that’s going to be helpful for the mind or the body,” she says.

“And actually motivation is the last thing to happen.”

While pounding the pavement might not solve all of life’s problems, it will leave you feeling “less worse” – and more able to attack your challenges with an optimistic mindset, she says.

3. Keep imagining possible futures

Dr Julie Ji, from the University of Western Australia’s School of Psychological Science, says it’s important to cultivate our visions of what’s possible in the future, as this will help maintain and boost our optimism.

During the pandemic, be aware of your exposure to the news, and the content of your conversations.

“Even if the future feels more uncertain than usual right now, it’s important to keep imagining concrete future goals and positive events … rather than just being led by the news cycle or negative internet chatter,” Dr Ji says.

4. Be optimistic, not delusional

While an optimistic mindset is great for our wellbeing, Dr Ji says we should steer clear of being “unrealistically optimistic”.

“So if you lose a job and you don’t know what the prospects are, then yes you’re going to feel uncertainty and you’re going to feel anxiety,” she says.

“That’s not to be disregarded, it’s not saying everything will be fine, I don’t need to do anything.

“Those feelings actually drive us to engage in productive behaviours, like looking to retraining, going on LinkedIn and reaching out for opportunities through relevant professional networks.”

5. This too shall pass

Dr Prunty says the uncertainty of the pandemic leaves many people panicky.

“A year and a half ago, I don’t think anyone anticipated it would still be going on,” she says.

“But if you think about pandemics, this is what they do; it’s just that we haven’t experienced it before.”

Remember this situation will eventually pass, and that looking after yourself – including focusing on sleep, a healthy diet and limiting booze – will put you in the best position to remain optimistic.

“It’s kind of about using your wise mind,” Dr Prunty says.

“Even though I’m anxious or even though I’m down … what does my rational mind tell me is good for my mental wellbeing?”

Written by Larissa Ham.