Psych Corner: How to Stay Optimistic No Matter What


Don’t be discouraged by life’s setbacks. Here’s how to bounce back when life knocks you down.

When life throws you a curveball, it’s easy to get discouraged. Whether it’s a breakup, wondering if you are ever going to meet “the one”, losing your job, tension with your spouse, or difficulty parenting, these setbacks can seem impossible to conquer. It might feel like there’s no way to bounce back. But there’s a good reason not to let your discouragement get the best of you. Research shows that thinking positively, even when you experience a setback, is associated with living longer, lower rates of depression, and reduced risk of heart disease, according to the Mayo Clinic. Even better, thinking positively is associated with better physical and psychological well-being and better coping skills during times of stress. Even though it might be difficult, thinking positively has many more benefits than letting yourself stay discouraged. Remember, you have the power to choose your reaction to what happens to you in life.

One amazing example of choosing to be discouraged even in the face of the most awful circumstances is the life of Viktor Frankl who shared his story in his book Man’s Search for Meaning. Frankl was a psychiatrist who was imprisoned in a concentration camp during World War II. He was separated from his wife and children and never saw them again. He observed that, even in the horrific circumstances of the concentration camp where people were starving and being murdered daily, people found reasons not to be discouraged and to hope. For Frankl, thinking of his wife and the book he hoped to write gave him hope whenever he started to be discouraged.  Now, this might be an extreme example but it shows how, even in the worst possible circumstances, it’s possible to choose your attitude and response to what is happening to you. You can choose to keep moving forward with an optimistic attitude even when the worst happens.

One way to stay optimistic even when it seems that life is against you is to remember what you have to be grateful for. Research has found that people who practice gratitude are more likely to be optimistic and feel better about their lives. They also made less visits to the doctor. Keeping a gratitude journal is an easy way to practice being grateful on a daily basis. Simply record in a notebook five things that you have to be thankful for that day. Even when life doesn’t seem to be going your way, you still have something to be grateful for. Plus, it’s hard to stay discouraged when you see all of the good things happening in your life.

Another important thing to do when you are feeling discouraged is to surround yourself with supportive family and friends. One study found that people who have social support networks experience less stress than people who didn’t have strong social support. Lean on your family and friends for support during hard times and they will help you to feel less discouraged.

Keep in mind that being positive and optimistic doesn’t mean being unrealistic or ignoring the negative things that happened in your life. Instead, it means choosing to look at what happened as an opportunity to grow and become a better person. For example, if you have a large, unexpected expense, you might be tempted to feel discouraged and to doubt you’ll be able to recover financially from it. But instead of letting yourself be discouraged, you could remind yourself of other times you’ve bounced back from a hardship. You could also remind yourself of your strengths as a person (“I’m resourceful and I’ll find a way to save a little here and there until I have the same amount saved again”). You can see other examples of thinking positively on the Mayo Clinic website.

You don’t have to let that feeling of discouragement take over your life. Instead, make a conscious effort to practice being positive and grateful. You’ll feel stronger and more confident.



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