If I asked people who know me to describe me, I suspect many would mention my smile and a laugh that is loud, heartfelt, and contagious. In the past when I have done presentations about living with depression and anxiety, I have received comments that I don’t “look like a depressed person.” My response is always the same: “I’m not a depressed person, I am a happy person with a depressive disorder.”
However, like everyone, I have times that are challenging, days when happiness doesn’t naturally bubble to the surface. And, like many people, when I am dealing with a depressive episode, it can feel almost impossible to identify, let alone focus on, something positive. Enter the next #FabFeat “pillar of positivity” – cultivating optimism.
Sonja Luybormirsky describes the practice of cultivating optimism in the following way: “Finding the silver lining in a cloud. Not only celebrating the present and the past, but anticipating a bright future.” I was particularly taken by this quotation as it reflects my own philosophy of life. While I cannot say that things happen for a reason given so many horrible and heartbreaking events in this world, I do believe that I can take away learning, meaning, and purpose from things that do take place; that represents the “silver lining” for me. For example, when I was downsized from my Human Resources position of 26 years, I had the opportunity to return to school, complete my Master’s degree, and am now able to work in my new mental health career as a Recovery Support Worker.
The benefits of cultivating optimism are significant including increased motivation to achieve goals; more effective coping skills; positive mood; higher energy and morale.
Optimism is something that can developed and enhanced through exercises and practices. Below are few that can help you to cultivate your own silver lining:
- The Best Possible Self: Take about 10 minutes and write about your best possible future self: your life as you always imagined it would be, having achieved all the things you wanted to the best of your abilities. Let the writing flow. After you have finished, reflect upon how you feel. Are you inspired to make these goals and dreams come true? A variation on this practice is to write about a goal that you wish to accomplish in five years, describing it in terms of the steps you have taken to successfully get there.
- Doors: Closed and Open: Reflect upon a time in your life when something in your life didn’t turn out as you had planned – a relationship, a job, a project. Now consider what happened after that particular “door” closed. What door opened to you that would not have otherwise been an option?
- Identify Barrier Thoughts: Increase your optimistic thinking by becoming more aware of your automatic pessimistic thoughts. For example, each time you have a negative thought, place a penny in a jar while replacing the pessimism with a more favourable thought. Since the brain cannot focus on two opposite feelings at the same time, you are training your mind toward hardwiring positivitiy.
Time to build our optimism muscles together. Join me in sharing your own ways of Cultivating Optimism:
Post a picture, video, or note on the Facebook page: Fabulous Feats.
Tweet out your experience with using: #FabFeats
A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty. – Winston Churchill (who lived with bipolar disorder)