The Enchanted Outlook



Optimism Do’s and Don’ts

optimism smile field girl

The Original Phoenix wrote a wonderful post recently called 4 Ways Positive Thinking Helps Me that got my wheels turning, particularly since she mentioned some articles that were critical of positive thinking. I had seen some similar anti-optimism articles circulating lately and have been wanting to address both sides of the coin. When I worked as a suicide prevention instructor, I had given a lot of thought to when and in what ways optimism is helpful and when it is not so helpful. I decided to compile a little guideline to optimism from what I had learned through work and also through personal research.

1.Do practice gratitude.

Studies have shown that practicing gratitude has a very positive effect on mental health along with tons of other benefits. I like to think of what I am grateful for when I wake up in the morning. It puts my stresses in perspective.

2. Don’t ignore your own feelings.

In America where I live, there can be this kind of expectation of optimism that sometimes makes it hard to NOT look on the bright side. Think about it: what’s the standard answer to the question, “How are you?” Do people really want to hear any answer other than “good?” But denying our own feelings isn’t helpful. We can be honest with our own feelings and still hope for a positive outcome in difficult times.

3. Do find the silver lining.

When bad things happen to us, it’s very easy to focus on what else could go wrong. I am guilty of this as well. While being prepared for the worst isn’t a bad thing, I do like to take a moment to ask myself, “what could go right?” What opportunities could come from a bad situation? What can be learned? How can this experience lead to growth?

4. Don’t be blindly optimistic when the consequences are high.

There are many times when it pays to be optimistic. When the consequences of failure are high, it doesn’t pay to be optimistic.* In other words, go into that job interview optimistic; what’s the worst that can happen? But don’t start up that full passenger jet plane with the check engine light on and hope for the best. Blind optimism in risky situations is not a good thing.

5. Do make optimism intentional.

It’s easy to fall into a rut of our traditional thinking and forget to be optimistic; I’ve certainly been there. That’s why I try to make time for optimism. Optimism can help  with ability to cope with stress, our social support, our health, our career, our longevity, and more* so there are a number of reasons why it pays to be a little optimistic besides just “feeling good.”

6. Don’t forget to wallow now and again.

Is there anything more cathartic than a good cry? When I was little and I would cry, my mom would read me the Owl at Home story about “Tearwater Tea.” Owl wants to make his favorite tea, so he thinks of sad things like broken chairs and forgotten spoons until he has filled up a teapot with his tears. As silly as it is, it’s a reminder that a good cry once in a while is important. Just make sure that wallowing is a place you visit on occasion, and not a place you live full-time.

7. Do defend your own personal boundaries.

Don’t let others tell you how you should or shouldn’t feel. You are feeling miserable today? Feel miserable. Feeling optimistic? Feel optimistic. Exploring our own emotions is a very personal journey and shouldn’t be invalidated by others. It’s okay to feel what you need to feel. Even this post; if you’re not feeling it today, it’s okay to say, “no thanks” and come back to it another time.

8. Don’t force optimism on others.

On the flip side, it isn’t helpful to force our feelings on others when they come to us for help. Truly listening involves accepting how someone else is feeling with no strings attatched. I have found that when we listen in a non-directive way, it is easier for people to talk through their own feelings and to find a solution that works best for them. Often this process leaves people feeling much more optimistic in the end than if we try to force them to feel how we feel about a situation.

I hope this has been a helpful guide to optimism. And speaking of gratitude, thanks to The Original Phoenix for the inspiration. Be sure to check out her blog for posts about mental health, college life, and the power of human potential.

Source: Positive Psychology: Theory, Research and Applications, by Kate Hefferon and Ilona Boniwell

Three Word Swap Charms to Change Your Life


I’ve been thinking a lot of language choice lately and I decided to share three of my favorite word swaps. These are simple changes we can make in our language which make huge changes in our perspective.

 Swap “Can’t” for “Don’t”

I found this one online; it was confirmed through a study done by Boston College. This one is particularly helpful if you are having trouble with boundaries, with telling people “no” or having trouble sticking to a goal. Instead of “I can’t go to the party,” try “I don’t go to parties.” Instead of “I can’t have soda” which can feel like depriving yourself of something you want, try “I don’t drink soda” which incorporates this into who you are: you are a person who doesn’t drink soda. In this way it affirms your own willpower.

Swap “Should” for “Want” or “Will” or “Feel”

This is one I learned from a counselor years ago. Is there any word that makes us feel more guilty and less in control than “should?” It brings to light the gap between all the things we aren’t and all the things we wish we were. Swap “I should work out” for “I will work out.” Swap “I should visit my family” for “I want to visit them.” If that doesn’t do the trick, connect to the reason you want to do those things with “because”, i.e. “I will work out because I love being healthy” or “I want to visit my family because I love them.”

And then finally, “feel.” Are you “shoulding yourself” because you are avoiding difficult feelings about obligations that you need to confront? Maybe you are telling yourself “I should hang out with this person” instead of admitting, “I don’t feel good around this person.” Being honest with your feelings can help you live your happiest life.

Swap “Spend” for “Invest”

I mentioned this one in my New Year’s Resolution. This is probably my favorite swap. To spend is to pay out money. To invest, in contrast, carries with it the expectation for growth. You spend money at a fast food chain. You invest in healthy foods at home. You spend money on new clothes you don’t need, but you invest in a quality wardrobe. Before I make a purchase, I like to ask myself, “Is this an investment?”

These words are all a work in progress for me, but I encourage you to try them and see just how much your perspective can change from these three simple swaps.


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