Research says people with a positive outlook live longer. But what if you’re not inherently optimistic? Can you change your outlook on life? All illustrations by Kanupriya Singh

I am writing this newsletter from Kanha. Four days spent with 20 like minded people who believe in giving back to the society while working on their own growth journey. I hosted a residential workshop on Deep Health, sharing my years of learning with the participants on every tool that can help them grow on their personal and professional journeys. More details on this in the coming newsletters. If you want to participate in future workshops or want to host one in your city to raise funds for your charity, I will be happy to offer my services.

A popular metaphor to explain optimism is the concept of “glass half full”.

Optimists have a built-in attitude to be hopeful and consider the possibilities of good things happening in life.

The word “optimism” comes from the Latin word optimum, meaning “the best”. In psychology, optimism or dispositional optimism is a set of beliefs and traits that help individuals reflect on the positive aspects of life rather than the negative ones. It is a personality pattern that displays resilience and personal strength. You know the type: Some people manage to remain upbeat even during the most trying times. You probably think “How do they do it?” But a better question to ask is “Can I do it too?”

Science continues to find that people with an optimistic outlook enjoy healthier and longer lives. A study recently published in the journal PNAS, involving more than 70,000 people, found that those who rated themselves as having high optimism were more likely to live to age 85 or older compared with less optimistic individuals.

The power of optimism means being positive and happy. It also means using this mindset to make positive changes. Optimistic people generally have the perspective that with the right approach and right action they can solve problems and improve the situation.


Different mindset

It’s not clear exactly how optimism affects health. Investigators have considered both biological and behavioral mechanisms. For example, optimistic people tend to have lower levels of inflammation and healthier cholesterol levels compared with less optimistic people. But they also are more likely to engage in healthy behaviours like staying active, eating right, not smoking, and not abusing alcohol. Optimistic people are more likely to take chances, try new things, and be open to new opportunities. They generally have an easier time bouncing back from setbacks because they believe that something good can come out of any difficulty or challenge. There are numerous benefits associated with optimism. Studies show that optimists tend to live longer than pessimists due to the fact that they have lower levels of stress hormones like cortisol in their systems. In addition, optimistic people report higher levels of satisfaction in relationships, more success in school and work, greater physical health, and an overall greater sense of well-being.

Carver and Scheier (1987) introduced the term “dispositional optimism”. They argued that it is the presence of positive traits that increases the chances of something good happening to us. The dispositional theory of optimism suggests that optimism leads to positive consequences in life, and pessimism leads to stressful outcomes and increased dissatisfaction. I have an Uncle whom I always find very cheerful and happy. I have seen him go through some of the toughest moments that comes in any one’s life but I always found him cheerful and happy. I asked him once “What’s the secret of this?” He gave me a very philosophical reply – “It is said that there is a Brahma muhurat that happens every day and we don’t know when. It is said that what ever you wish at that time, happens. So I always keep my thoughts positive. “Pata nahi kab Brahma Muhurat hai” he would say. When ever anyone asks him, “How are you doing?” His response is always “Bam Bam” (means fantastic). We, in our life, come across so many people, who in their best situation also remain pessimist.

With a little practice, it’s possible to cultivate an optimistic mindset that will serve us for years to come. It’s not always easy, and it takes dedication, but it’s possible for people to change their mindset. Here are some of the best optimism tools and activities that we can use to instil hope and cultivate a positive outlook within ourselves, people we live with, and our friends.

  1. Look for opportunities. When difficult events happen, turn your focus toward a more positive alternative. For example, if you are stuck waiting for an appointment, use this unexpected free time to call a friend or read a book. If an injury or sickness has derailed your usual workouts, focus on what you can do, like gentle stretching or using resistance bands. These substitute activities can make you feel more positive and remind you that difficult circumstances will not necessarily continue, and you can overcome barriers to get there.

  2. Focus on your strengths. Reflect on your personal strengths, like creativity, perseverance, kindness, curiosity. Choose one and plan how to use it today. For example, for perseverance, make a list of tasks you have found challenging recently, then try to tackle each one. If you choose curiosity, attempt an activity you’ve never tried before. Repeat this process every day for a week. You may use the same personal strength across multiple days or try using a different one each day.

  3. Practice gratitude. Optimists often are thankful for what they have, and share it with others. Keep a gratitude journal where you list the many gifts and blessings for which you are thankful, like your good health, a kind gesture you received, a great meal you enjoyed.

  4. Create a mental image of your best possible self. Where do you see yourself in 5 or 10 years? This exercise helps you address three essential questions:

    What are you doing now?

    What is important to you?

    What do you care about and why?

    The answers can help you focus on new goals and areas of improvement you’ve always wanted to pursue, but couldn’t because of other responsibilities and priorities, like work and raising kids. This can help you turn your attention toward something stimulating and exciting, which can increase your sense of great possibilities and a more positive future.

  5. Start each day with positive affirmations. Choose a mantra that resonates with you and repeat it throughout the day to keep your spirits high.

  6. Surround yourself with positive people who inspire and motivate you. Spend time with people who support your growth and lift your spirits when times are tough.

  7. Take it one day at a time. Remind yourself that today is all that matters, and take small steps in the right direction each day. I just finished the book The Choice: A true story of hope. It’s an amazing story of living everyday to survive during Hitler’s time. At the age of sixteen, Edith Eger was sent to Auschwitz. Hours after her parents were killed, Nazi officers forced Edie to dance for his amusement and her survival. Edie was pulled from a pile of corpses when the American troops liberated the camps in 1945. And one line from the book that describes Optimism which has gone into my list of best quotes is “I survived today. Tomorrow I will be free”

  8. Have faith in yourself and your ability to overcome obstacles. Believe that everything happens for a reason, even if it doesn’t make sense at first. One of the learnings that I took from my Babuji (Grand father) was Jo hota hai ache ke liye hota hai (whatever happens, happens for good). Have a lot of stories where something bad happened, but then later I realised it happened for a good reason. You will read some of these in my upcoming book.

Helping kids overcome negative thoughts from an early age can go a long way in making them self-reliant, hopeful individuals in the future.

It calls for better health. Optimism implies better academic and extracurricular performance. It builds resilience and strength to sail through tough times.

  1. Optimistic self-talk – Modelling positive self-talk is a great way to promote optimism in kids. For example, parents can talk about their day at work and invite kids to share about their day at school. Exchanging simple thoughts about what they liked about today, what made them feel bad, and how they are planning to make the most of the next day can be a simple yet powerful start to cultivating positive thinking in a child.

  2. Empathy – Empathy begins with acknowledging the child’s feelings. Children who feel heard and attended at home usually grow up to become conscious and empathetic individuals. Parents can use simple statements such as ‘I can understand how you feel,’ or ‘ I would have felt the same if I were you’ to model empathetic behaviour.

    Learning how to empathize teaches a child to understand, accept, and reflect the same during stressful times later.

  3. Focus on effort rather than results Psychologists stress the role of the right attitude in building optimism. Positive thinkers focus more on the process than the results. For example, encouraging children to participate in activities, without worrying about who wins and who loses, is a great message for nurturing this faith. Parents who appreciate children for their efforts are encouraging those kids to believe in themselves and never stop trying.

  4. Recalling happier times Negative thinking may drive a child to believe that bad times never end. As parents, we can motivate them to recall past experiences, that made them sad initially but they could later overcome it. Asking questions such as “How did you feel when you got a better outcome than you expected?” can help them introspect and find hope from within.

  5. Changing perspective A shift from negative to positive perspective can be both the cause and the consequence of optimism. Helping children understand that it is practically impossible to always have things the way we want is a significant step to make them insightful.

    Once they learn to manage their expectations and look into any matter with rational reasoning, they may more easily tune in to their optimistic self.

Unlearn – Toolkit to Unlearn. Embracing the Cycle of Unlearning as a system will change how you think, view, and carry out your role.

Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement. Nothing can be done without hope and confidence: Helen Keller

Embrace your inner optimism; it is the fuel of achievement and dreams. When life throws obstacles in our way, hope gives us strength to tackle them head-on with confidence.