How to Choose Optimism

Gloom and pessimism weigh on the economy, our health and our relationships. They spoil our gifts. I’ve arrived at these insights through my experience of life, lessons of my successes and failures, and encounters with philosophers, experts and business leaders who promote optimism as vital. It will make your life more beautiful and other people’s lives too, because optimism is contagious. Here’s how to get started.

1. Cultivate positive thinking

It’s better for our health to seek positive emotions – affection, joy, satisfaction. The links between the heart and brain are well established. A single positive thought can trigger beneficial neurotransmitters and hormones. Oxytocin is the hormone of love, pleasure and orgasm. Serotonin regulates our mood positively. Dopamine stimulates and encourages us. A thought, look or smile is enough to bring down our blood pressure, and make us feel better.

Test these scientific principles. When you wake up, dwell a moment on a dream, or something pleasant. When you arrive at work, forget your dreadful journey or the bad weather. Share something positive. When a motorist stops for you, smile and wave. In these moments, you’ll feel your face relax and a good mood take hold.

2. Don’t simply count on good luck

After a setback, many people tell themselves: ‘I’m not lucky’. But there’s no such thing as luck. People who are thought to be lucky go out to meet what Machiavelli called good fortune. They take initiatives and make contact with many people, increasing their chances of finding their soulmate, a job, an apartment. It is energy – not luck. It is willpower, the spirit of conquest, moving forward. It’s crucial to never lose impetus.

Don’t believe luck is always with you. Let’s say you present a project. Everything is going wonderfully. But nothing comes of it. The explanation is simple: the person you were talking to is not interested but does not wish to upset you or waste his time discussing it. By contrast, many proposals that get a negative response end up having a positive outcome.

The basic principle: nothing is ever going as well as we think, but nothing is ever going as badly, either. Optimists know nothing can be taken for granted, that everything has to be earned.

3. Maintain your
desire to learn

Pessimists lack curiosity. They miss opportunities to discover something new, to meet someone new. On the other hand, optimists are curious about everything. Curiosity is the cornerstone of knowledge. The desire to learn is a way of controlling our ego, the temptation to think, ‘I know it all’. Acquiring skills, including technical ones, broadens our horizon and makes us happier. Progressing rewards us for our efforts, counterbalancing setbacks and frustrations. Make great discoveries, or set yourself small challenges. The crucial thing is to remain alert.

4. Take responsibility for your life

Most of us don’t take out our annoyances on family, friends or colleagues. We spare them. To compensate, we become mistrustful of the world. We construct a virtual world in which everything is interpreted negatively, inflating fears about crime and illegal immigration, even where there is little.

Over the past 20 years in opinion polls, unemployment is always rising even when it’s falling, and consumer purchasing power is always decreasing even when it’s increasing.

The exaggeration of risks and suffering is a collective phenomenon, and can affect us individually. Struggling to make ends meet? Start by not exaggerating the suffering. Consider also what’s going well, what you’ve achieved. Instead of complaining, look around you for people who have had similar problems and may be able to help you.

If something is wrong at home or work, it’s your responsibility. You are the principal solution.

5. Put things in perspective

Why take the full force of everything that happens to us? Instead, take a step back and put an event into perspective by comparing it with others that we have experienced.

That’s not distancing ourselves from reality – it’s actually giving it its rightful place. To those who doubt this, I recommend listening to the stories of people who had cancer for the umpteenth time and who were fighting and even finding new reasons to live and hope. I’ve visited workshops for people on welfare; they didn’t feel sorry for themselves and displayed incredible desire to improve their lot. How important are your frustrations and upsets, really?

6. Don’t believe it was better before

Being optimistic means living in the present without constantly encumbering ourselves with the idea that it was better before or that happiness will come later.

Said French philosopher André Comte-Sponville, “There is no point in hoping for what one doesn’t have without enjoying what one does have”. By not being fully in the moment we may miss satisfying experiences.

It is a philosophy of happiness. It’s in the here and now, in the carpe diem (‘seize the day’) of the ancients, that you should learn from your failures and successes,­ improve yourself, not pass up opportunity and, of course, never put things off.

7. See the world as
it really is

Optimism does not mean seeing the world as more beautiful than it is. Nor as more ugly. Yes, the world is uncertain, as we’ve seen during the industrial revolution and the advent of railways. And people’s fears were even greater back then.

But the world is also wonderful. Advances in science, medicine and technology have never been as spectacular. Each year since 1990, we’ve gained an average of three months in life expectancy. Solutions to famine, water shortages and viruses have never been closer.

Even if it isn’t enough, never have such significant decisions been taken about global warming, currency crises and human rights.

Let’s stop seeing the glass of the world as half-empty. It is full of promise.

8. If you’re not convinced, pretend

Reflect on writer Georges Bernanos’s statement: “The only difference between the optimist and the pessimist is that the optimist is a happy fool and the pessimist a sad one.”

Mind still not made up? Pretend. Make your thank yous heartfelt. Express gratitude daily to someone who has been kind to you. Take a deep breath … and smile.

Store positive thoughts and dreams and connect with them when a negative emotion takes hold. Create a box of delights that contains photos of loved ones and mementos that bring you pleasure. You’ll soon find this does you good, and has a positive effect on those around you.

Author Thierry Saussez, who lives in Paris, founded the Printemps de l’Optimisme (Spring of Optimism) seminars in 2014.


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