How to look on the bright side and learn to be more optimistic

An optimistic outlook is linked to all kinds of health benefits yet, worryingly, we’re becoming more pessimistic in Australia. Here is how you can buck the trend.

Despite Australians having an international reputation for being easygoing and optimistic, reality tells a different story.

Not only has Australia slipped to position 12 on the World Happiness Report 2023, down three places since 2016, but a recent study shows that only one in four teenagers are optimistic about Australia’s future.

At the same time, a survey by Melbourne-based think tank The Centre for Optimism shows only 60 per cent of leaders are optimistic for the future of Australia over the next decade.

“Most indicators show Australians, on average, are becoming less optimistic, more pessimistic,” the centre’s chairman Robert Masters says.

“However, it only needs some small changes in habits to turn that around.”

Why is it good for you to be optimistic?

Research shows optimistic people are healthier in all sorts of ways.

For starters, they tend to sleep better and longer.

Other research suggests optimistic people are twice as likely to have healthier hearts, compared to people who are more pessimistic.

And according to the results of two different studies published in 2022, optimists live longer too.

Even having an optimistic partner is beneficial, with research showing they can impact your own health positively.

Are there any cons to optimistic thinking?

Research from the University of Bath, UK, warns that optimistic thinking can lead to poorer decision-making, which may have serious implications when money is involved.

“Unrealistically optimistic financial expectations can lead to excessive levels of consumption and debt, as well as insufficient savings,” study lead author Dr Chris Dawson says, adding it can also lead to failed business ventures.

“The chances of starting a successful business are tiny, but optimists always think they have a shot and will start businesses destined to fail,” Dr Dawson says.

So, when it comes to personal financial decisions, making the effort to override unrealistic optimism is wise.

How to feel more optimistic

According to The Centre for Optimism, there are a number of big-picture factors that contribute to people feeling optimistic, including economic stability, trust in institutions, and quality government leadership.

While these factors are largely beyond individual control, there are things you can do to feel more optimistic.

Reminisce regularly

Research shows feeling nostalgic about the past, for example by listening to music that evokes memories, can increase optimism about the future.

One explanation is that nostalgia raises self-esteem, which boosts optimism.

Imagine good things for your future

A study conducted at The University of Western Australia shows that not only is optimism a modifiable rather than fixed trait, but how we envisage our future when we let our minds wander may influence how optimistic we feel.

The study suggests people who imagine positive aspects of the future when they’re daydreaming tend to be more optimistic as a result.

Make meaningful connections

Surveys by The Centre for Optimism also show that Australians believe community wellbeing is an essential goal for fostering optimism.

“The Centre for Optimism’s habit-changing recommendations show lifting your head from a screen and saying hello to people on the street and in the office corridor is a simple way of uplifting the wellbeing of your community,” Robert says.

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Written by Karen Fittall.