I’ve always wanted to be an optimist, but I figured nothing good would ever come of it. Okay, bad joke! On a more serious note, I think optimism should be a strong driving factor in our day-to-day lives. Let me tell you why:

Let’s first start out by simply reflecting on the word itself. A simple definition of the word “optimist” is “positive thinker”. Some synonyms are “dreamer”, “hoper”, and “idealist”. If you are “optimistic”, you’ll find yourself being “assured”, “bright”, “cheerful”, “confident”, “encouraged”, “hopeful”, “positive”, “upbeat”, and “happy”. Ah, “happy” is a great word, isn’t it! Now compare all those wonderful words with their opposites: “dejected”, “depressed”, “doubtful”, “gloomy”, “hopeless”, “pessimistic”, and “sorrowful”. So unless you would like to live in a state of gloom and depression, I think the clear choice is to find out how we can take a more positive view of our lives.

Ready to begin? Of course you are!! (Positive thoughts!) Now, no one is suggesting that it is as easy as snapping your fingers and magically turning yourself into a cheerful and upbeat person. Like so many things in life, I think the journey itself holds so much value for us, and it is not just all about the final destination.

When something happens to you, your limbic brain (the “feeling” part of your brain that gives us the freeze-flight-or-fight response) will react instantly. That’s just natural. As an example, if your boss takes you aside at work and tells you you’ve been laid off, you will of course have a gut reaction. Shock? Confusion? Disbelief? Sometimes your reaction is very much warranted (for example, shock and anger if a stranger suddenly comes up to your child and strikes them), and other times you may find that perhaps your initial response was a bit over-the-top (such as being completely outraged if someone accidentally bumped into you while crossing the street). Based on the situation, if you are able, stop yourself and let things sink in. What we’re concerned with is how you then handle the situation after the fact. Acknowledge your gut reaction, and then ask yourself if it is a reasonable response to whatever event caused it.

Here’s another example. Say you are in school and the teacher hands you back a test paper where you received a D. Your first thought may be frustration. You could take that frustration and let it fester, letting depressive thoughts quickly creep into your mind. Or, you could stop yourself and think something like, “Yes, I have a right to be frustrated, but I’m not going to let this get me down. I’m going to talk with my teacher and see how I can better prepare myself for next time.” Because whether you like it or not, that paper is already graded and there is nothing you can do about that. But you can, however, control how you perceive the situation. And perception is a very powerful thing!

Now, I am in no way suggesting that all of us go about our day with a frozen smile on our face with never a negative thought running through our head. To state the obvious, we are very much human, and we have a wonderful range of emotions. Frustrating, challenging, difficult, and unfair things can happen in our life just as often as fun, exciting, and enjoyable things can occur. To put it simply, life happens!

So yes, the glass truly is half full! Go ahead and give in to that initial rush of feeling whenever something happens to you. But then stop yourself as soon as you are able, take a deep breath if it helps, and remember it’s all about perception. Whatever happened is already done and gone. Now it is all about how you choose – yes choose – to react to it. The more and more you practice at having positive thoughts, the easier and easier it becomes. Over time, one positive thought after another will start to pile up. I promise! And before you know it, you’ll blink and realize you’re … gasp! … an optimist!