Six Fundamentals of an Optimistic Life

“A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.”
Winston Churchill

“Nobody can go back and start a new beginning, but anyone can start today and make a new ending.”
Maria Robinson

“It’s better to be an optimist who is sometimes wrong than a pessimist who is always right.”

Negative thinking can poison what – from the outside – looks like a pretty good life with opportunities. Pessimism can create ceilings and walls made out of glass where there really are none.

With such forces controlling your inner life your outer life tends to stand pretty still. Your time here waste away. It’s a terrible thing.

But you can change. I have. And in this article I’ll share six fundamentals that have been essential for me to make that mental change.

These are things that actually work in real life to change how you view things. However, just knowing these things won’t change your thinking. You have to practice them and fail from time to time and then get back up again and keep using them until they become new habits of thinking.

Focus on what you want.

What do you think about most of the time? Your troubles and worries? If that is the case, if you spend your attention on focusing on what you don’t want then it’s easy to feed the negativity monster in your mind with more energy and to get stuck in analysis paralysis.

But if you instead spend most of your time thinking about what you want out of life in various areas then you become more focused. Your mind starts to spit out solutions to your obstacles. You feel like taking action to start moving step by step towards your goals.

So focus on what you want. Post reminders on post-its and whiteboards in your surroundings to keep your attention where it needs to be. Write down your goal and focus single-mindedly to taking yourself towards it. Ask yourself questions that helps you find the useful and positive such as:

What’s awesome about this situation?
And what is the hidden opportunity in this situation?

Be grateful for what you got.

What you want is something out there in the future. But it is also important to view what you have in the right way to keep an optimistic viewpoint.

So appreciate the little and big things in life you have instead of focusing too much on what you don’t have.

Ask yourself: what can I be grateful for in my life right now?

When I ask myself that question I often come up with simple answers such as the roof over my head, the delicious food on my table, having the opportunity to sleep in and the people closest to me.

Avoid negative generalizations.

Negative generalizations about life can really wreck your outlook.

If you for example run into an obstacle or problem then the negative thinker may generalize this as something that is just there and will continue to stay there. While the optimistic thinker views the obstacle as something temporary that can be overcome by taking action (even if that also means failing and learning a few things along the way).

If the negative thinker runs in criticism then s/he may generalize this as something personal, like the other person is out to get him/her and that s/he is somehow a bad or generally an incompetent person just because this piece of criticism.

The optimistic thinker on the other hand will keep some distance to the criticism. S/he thinks that the piece of criticism may be valid for this area of life rather than saying something about everything (if the criticism is about not being on time for meetings at work then that is the issue that needs to be corrected, it does not mean a bad performance in all areas of that job).

The optimistic thinker also keeps in mind that criticism may sometimes not be valid but will arise because the other person has had a bad day, is irritated about something else or hates some part of his or her own life.

Shape the input.

If you let pessimistic and negative thinking into your mind then it will be pretty much impossible to stay optimistic about life.

So shape the input.

Take a closer look at what movies, TV, news, books and music you consume and how they affect you. Look at how the people closer to you too such as friends and family affect your thoughts.

Then take action to reduce or cut out the most negative sources as best you can and replace that void in your life with more time with the positive influences.

Set the context for your day.

What you do early in the day often sets the context for that day. A good start leads to good day and a bad start to a bad day.

Some suggestions that will help you to set the positive context for the day:

  • Spend a few minutes in the morning on thinking about what you want and your goals. This sends you off to highly motivated and focused day.
  • Spend a few minutes being grateful for what you got. This sets you up for a positive mood throughout the day.
  • Exercise. This will help you release inner tensions and worry and fill the space they occupied within you with new energy.
  • Do the most important thing first. This is how I start my day. Today I woke up and did my usual morning ritual that ends with doing the most important thing on my to-do list. And so I started to write this article. This not only makes sure that the most important thing gets done each day. It also makes me feel good about myself and makes the rest of the to-do list feel lighter to move through.

So make an effort early in the day. It really pays off even if you may not always feel like it just after breakfast.

Be good and kind to yourself.

How you view yourself and treat yourself has a huge impact on how you view the world around you and interact with it.

You are at the centre of your world and if you like yourself and are good to yourself then it becomes a lot easier to thinking optimistically about your future and the world around you.

Here are a few of the best ways to be good and kind to yourself:

  • Do the right thing. Do what you deep down think  is the right thing as much as you can – but accept that you will never be able to do it all the time – to increase your self-esteem and your sense of the things you deserve in life.
  • Write down five things each night that you are grateful for about yourself. Or appreciate yourself by doing a two minute exercise where you just list small and big things about yourself that you like and good things you have done. You can do this exercise in your mind or on a piece of paper. These two self-appreciation exercises will help you create better thinking habits. Because the more you do things like these, the more this kind of thinking will naturally pop up in your everyday life too. You are changing how you think about yourself and what you have a tendency to focus on (both in yourself and in the world around you).
  • Don’t beat yourself up. It’s just a stupid habit and no one will reward you for it. And it only makes it harder to improve since you will probably start to procrastinate to avoid the pain of your own future self-beatings for example.

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About the Author

Henrik Edberg is the creator of the Positivity Blog and has written weekly articles here since 2006. He has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Gothenburg and has been featured on Lifehacker, HuffPost and Paulo Coelho’s blog. Click here to learn more…

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • I love these examples.

    Avoiding negative generalizations is something I try to share with others. I have found that putting a person in the scope of an entire specific type doesn’t accurately explain who they truly are.

    I try to help others look ‘at the bright side’. The more positive I am, the likelier the people around me will be happy and positive.

    Thanks for this great piece.

    David Damron

  • Great post – focus and gratitude are key in my life – writing a gratitude list and ‘putting the big stick down’ help me to focus – result = happiness.


  • Henrick, love this post. Perhaps one of the best things I can think of is the gratitude list at the end of the day. I would also add that it can be helpful to make a list of our victories as well: things that we accomplished or did well.

  • So many good things here. I laugh because I have negative generalizations running around my head right now and predicting doom and gloom for the rest of my life – lol. So I stopped and did focus on what I have right now and am not trying to beat myself up. I needed this article today, so I am very grateful you did your most important thing first :-) You rock Henrik

  • John Mack

    On making Negative Generalizations:

    This is a big problem. I hear it all the time, and find it appalling that educated people do not recognize the fallaciousness of making most general statements, even positive ones.

    I find negative generalizations occur most often when people consider only their own limited point of view. I usually counter with “Well, from the point of view of …, this may be how it looks. Did you consider that?”

  • This is the mantra I live my life by… It’s so unfortunate to be with people who just can’t seem to let go of the things that are wrong, or that they think are wrong…

    I was raised by a ‘victim’ and I married a ‘myrter’. My now EX husband used to ask me how I could be happy, when everything was so wrong…I used to say I have two choices, I can focus on what is wrong, or I can be happy with what is right…Obviously he never got that!

  • Excellent!! This is a fantastic article for those of us that need to work at staying positive. For me it is important to start the day off with a positive affirmation. By the way, I love your books – they are awesome!!

    • Thanks a lot, glad to hear that you enjoy both the books and the articles. :)

  • It all starts with you so first thing in morning give yourself a hug and love yourself. Then of course love others.

  • Stop being so hard on yourself and be confident. We are all important to this world.

  • i never watch the news in the morning its to depressing it like having a few beers before you goto work i listen to music instead but not allways you feel a lot more positive for the rest of the day that way

  • Excellent narration of points Henrik.
    Being optimistic in life starts with being hopeful. Hope is life and without hope, there is no life. There is a saying ” Faith moves mountains but doubt creates one”.

    We can’t judge or anticipate what life has to offer us tomorrow, but if we live our today to fullest, we can surely hope for a bright tomorrow.

    I couldn’t agree more with the point you said ” Be grateful for what you have got” – This is really important. We all think and focus on the things that we don’t have but forget the wonderful things we are already blessed with.

    Thanks for keeping me inspired :-)

    Naveen Kulkarni
    Author – Winning Ideas For Life

  • Good point about finishing your day in a good way too, thanks for adding that!

  • Thanks you for all the comments and added thoughts, guys!

  • Amazing how simple it can be to live optimistically. It isn’t rocket science but it can sky-rocket our confidence into the happiness-sphere. Great tips and so sensible and practical Henrik, nice on. Optimism needs a come back and I’m positive that it will.