Optimistic Outlook on Life
Tuesday, August 18, 2015 - Author: Chris B.
It's not always easy to be optimistic, and I believe that's because our mind is sometimes our worst enemy. From a young age, we learn to be anxious when certain situations come up. We relive memories of moments when we were scared, embarrassed or upset. This isn't our fault. It's a basic part of human survival skills. It stems from our "fight" or "flight" mechanism in the brain. We're able to remember bad situations that happened so we don't make the same mistakes in the future, but sometimes it can cause us to live with too much negativity.
Did you know that one of the best ways to relieve stress is to smile? When you smile so big that you're working the muscles in your eyes, you're actually releasing endorphins that help to relieve stress. There's science that proves that being optimistic will naturally put you in a better mood, so I've learned that laughing in bad situations is one of the best ways to deal with it at that moment. Learning to stay optimistic takes some time though, but there are some things you can do in your everyday life that will help.
Coming from a background of addiction and being close to death, people think it's a lot easier for me to stay optimistic about life in sobriety. While being given a second chance at life is one of the best ways to get some optimism in your life, I have a lot of friends that I share my optimism with and they see how helpful it can be in their daily lives.
Most of my life, I thought the whole world was out to get me. I thought that everyone woke up in the morning and thought about what they could do to upset me that day. Everyone who decided to go to the store at the same time as me to make really long lines were trying to upset me, and so were all of the people on the roads causing traffic jams. I didn't like people because it seemed like nobody did what I wanted them to do, which in my eyes meant they weren't all that intelligent.
Since getting sober, I've had a complete psychic change that's allowed me to maintain a life of optimism, and I use it in my life every single day. It's important for me to stay optimistic because negative thoughts can lead to depression and a relapse, but it's important for everyone. I've learned that when we're living in our own negativity, we're of no use to ourselves or other people.
Sit in Your Sadness, but Only do it for a Day
Bad things are going to happen in life, and there's no way of avoiding it. We're going to lose people close to us, we're going to lose jobs, we're going to go through breakups and we're going to have financial problems. Nobody lives the perfect life, so there are going to be days when it's difficult to stay optimistic. For me, I turned to alcohol or drugs to numb these feelings because I didn't want to deal with them. For you, it may be eating junk food, yelling at people who care about you, isolating or stuffing your feelings deep inside so you don't have to think about them.
I've learned to accept my feelings of sadness and fear because they're completely normal. When these inevitable situations happen, I give myself a day to feel sorry for myself and sit in self-pity. If I lose a job or a girlfriend, I take one day to sit there and be depressed. If I'm in the mood, I'll reach out to others to vent about the situation, and sometimes I'll even get a good cry in.
The one thing I remember during that day of misery is that "this too shall pass." I have never been in a situation so bad that the feelings never went away. I have had some of the closest people in my lives pass away. Even though I still think about them on a regular basis years after they have passed, it doesn't hurt as bad as when it happened.
After that day, I remember the serenity prayer:
"Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; the courage to change the things I can; and the wisdom to make the difference."
It's important that I realize that life must go on, and chances are that the negative experience was something completely out of my control. A good example is losing a job. I'll take one day to sit there and resent the people I worked with, be sad about losing the job and be fearful of the future. The next day, I realize that the only thing I can do is start looking for a new job.
Learning from the Past
Earlier, I talked about how negative experiences from our past can create negative thoughts and anxiety. I realized that I could use it in the opposite way as well. Whenever something bad happens, I tap into my memory bank and think about a different time that I was in a similar situation and everything worked out fine, and sometimes it worked out even better than I could have imagined.
I have a lot of friends who come to me with problems in their lives, and I'm there for them and try to offer my own experience, strength and hope. I remind them that they can't change certain outcomes. Without exaggerating, I'd say 90% of the time they find that their mind was creating negative thoughts about the situation, and it turns out great in the end. When they tell me the fantastic news, I immediately tell them to remember it. I tell them to take how they feel at that very moment and lock it into their memory forever. This helps because you're retraining your mind to remember the good instead of the bad when certain situations come up.
Sometimes Things Happen for a Reason
One thing we must do in order to maintain an optimistic point of view is to stop our delusions of what we want and need. For a long time, I thought I needed a lot of money, a big house, a brand new car and a meaningful relationship in order to be happy. I found out that this wasn't true. In the present day, all I need is my sobriety, my spirituality and assurance that my son is alright. Recognizing that the things I need are actually somewhat in my control allows me to maintain an optimistic outlook.
Of course, I have a variety of other situations where I feel entitled to certain things and think different situations should have the specific outcome that I want. I can get feelings of sadness and fear when they don't go my way, but I have found that everything happens for a reason, and sometimes the end result is much better than the one I had planned.
A great example is when I first moved back to Las Vegas, I got a job that I thought I was perfect for. It didn't take me long to realize that I hated it. It didn't pay well for the work I was doing and one of my co-workers really got under my skin. I ended up losing that job, and I was extremely upset and scared about my future. After my day of self-pity and misery, I started applying for new jobs and found one that sounded like a dream come true, and I ended up getting it. This job paid more, I was doing something I was passionate about and I had managers who showed me how much they appreciated my hard work on a daily basis.
When you're trying to be optimistic in your life, it may seem like you're grasping for straws, but do it anyways. The only thing you have to do is manage your expectations. Learn how to differentiate between a "want" and a "need", and your expectations of different situations won't be too high. You'll see that you're able to accept situations for what they are and be satisfied with whatever result comes your way.