The Real Reason to Be(come) an Optimist Even as Your World Falls Apart & How to Do It

January 22, 2021   ·  

Australian bushfires, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle stepping back, Trump’s impeachment, Brexit, COVID-19 and the disruptive lockdown, the stock market crash, the Black Lives Matter movement and the violence against its protesters, the explosion in Beirut, the West Coast wildfires, Trump’s shenanigans before and after the election ...

It’s been a year in which one absurd event followed another.

A year from hell, as the New York Post calls it.

And if you’re one of the many people that lost their job, or worse, a loved one, it’ll feel like your world has come apart at the seams. Nobody would blame you if you lost hope.

But I hope you managed to hang on to it.

Because, as you’ll read in this article, optimism is your best bet in the best and the worst of circumstances.

So, grab a cup of your favourite comfort drink, and settle in. You’ll learn why you want to be (more) optimistic and what you can do to get and keep a more positive outlook.

First, though, let’s make an important distinction.

Positivity or Optimism — What’s the Difference

Huh? Aren’t they the same?

No, not quite. They’re similar and very tightly related, but not the same.

Simon Sinek put it this way: “Positivity is telling ourselves and others that everything is good, even if it isn’t. Optimism accepts the truth of reality and looks forward to a brighter future.”

Tweet by Simon Sinek — Positivity is telling ourselves and others that everything is good, even if it isn’t. Optimism accepts the truth of reality and looks forward to a brighter future.

Unfortunately, being positive and optimistic are often used interchangeably. The fact they’re not can get you into hot water and even fired.

A manager who ended up firing me, vehemently denied that I was an optimist because, in his eyes, I only looked at what was not working well. The thing is, he never allowed the conversation to get to where I could suggest my solution — and I didn’t think to start with it.

He was (and probably still is) a positivity-terrorist — someone who insists on positivity and thinks it’s “negative” to call out anything that isn’t going so well.

However, this relentless insistence on only positive messages denies and diminishes people’s actual experience, making them feel unheard and unseen. And denying or turning a blind eye to “what is” has never helped anyone improve it.

What’s more, accepting what’s negative — without settling for it — can make you happier!

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not advocating wallowing in negative feelings, complaining about situations without taking action to improve them, or any other form of perpetuating doom and gloom.

Quite the contrary!

The fastest way out of a dire situation is to acknowledge what’s negative, and then turn to the positive.


Because I say so, of course :)

Joking aside, let’s look at the benefits of optimism.

 Drawing of senior couple playing tennis

Graphic by Kate Demianov

The Usual Suspects Everyone Dangles in Front of You

Optimism leads to all manner of good things.

In short: optimists enjoy the good life!

More than enough reason to become more of an optimist, don’t you think?

But I have one more for you. The real reason you want to become more of an optimist. The reason you won’t find anywhere else. The reason that explains all others.

Silhouette of man against golden sunset

Photo by Zac Durant

What Nobody Tells You: The Real Reason to Be an Optimist

Buddhists have been studying the mind for well over 2500 years. They talk about two states of being. Just two. No more. You can be in either one or the other, but never in both at the same time.

Buddhists call them a suffering state and a beautiful state.

You’re in suffering when you’re angry, anxious, fearful, stressed, sad, worried, frustrated, jealous, bored, impatient, etc.

You’re in a beautiful state when you’re curious, excited, confident, positive, loving, happy, grateful, at peace (calm), compassionate, etc.

And this corresponds beautifully to:

When you’re in a beautiful state, you have access to resources, such as inspiration, intuition, intelligent thinking, creativity, clarity, confidence, connection, presence, energy, power, ... Everything you need to thrive.

When you’re in suffering, you can’t access any of these. You’re in survival mode and all you can do is run, throw punches, or freeze — the third response to a perceived threat.

And that’s the real reason you want to become more of an optimist.

Optimists are masters at living in a beautiful state and returning to it quickly when they do get knocked into a primal fight or flight response. It explains why they’re happier overall, are healthier and less stressed, and are more successful.

So let’s examine what you can do in practical terms.

How to Become More of an Optimist

There are two keys to becoming an optimist:

  1. Imagining and rehearsing the future you desire.
  2. Managing your state of being.

Let’s dig into both.

Word ‘Dream’ on white splash, on background of purple and pink glitter

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon

Dream Your Future Into Being

Many people don’t know what they want and focus on what they don’t want.

Do yourself a favour and start dreaming again like you did when you were a kid. Imagine your perfect day — unrestrained by time. Where would you be? What would you do? Who’d be with you?

Visualise it. Vividly, in full technicolour, with smells and sounds. Don’t worry if at first, it’s still very abstract. It’ll evolve as you do it more often.

Review it daily.

How does this help you become more of an optimist?

It opens your mind up to possibilities and lets your subconscious know what you want so it can start to alert your awareness about opportunities that’ll move you forward.

Managing your state of being

Treat Emotions and Feelings as the Visitors They Are

Emotions and feelings are transient. Emotions last all of 6 seconds, and feelings pass in 60 to 90 seconds.

That’s good news, isn’t it?

So why can you feel down in the dumps for extended periods of time?

That’s mood. It lasts longer — hours, days, even weeks.

Moods last longer because habitual thoughts keep triggering the same emotions and feelings. 

So, what’s your way out?

There are three parts to that.

One is realizing that you do experience beautiful states even when your mood is generally low. So staying in a mood isn’t inevitable. You can and do break your mood all the time.

The second is using the transient nature of emotions and feelings. They’re visitors that don’t stay long. So, wait them out, let them pass through you. To help you do that, put some distance between yourself and your feelings by labelling them: “Oh, I’m angry,” or “Oh, that’s sadness.”

The third and final part is to get clear on what triggered your feelings and the thoughts that follow and fuel them, and actively changing your thought patterns.


Graphic with speech and thought bubbles

Graphic by Yaviki

Don’t Believe Your Negative Thoughts

Part of becoming more of an optimist is not believing your negative thoughts.

And I can assure you most of them are not true. If only because negative thoughts tend to be absolute: “I always ...” or “It’ll never ...”

But you know even better why they’re not true. So, challenge them. Argue against yourself. Play your own Devil’s Advocate. Find the arguments and the evidence that proves they’re not true.

For bonus points, come up with and rehearse positive counters. Having those readily available will get you out of suffering a lot quicker.

See Setbacks As Just That: A Setback

Setbacks aren’t fun. But they’re part of life and sort of inevitable.

But they don’t reflect on you or anybody else. So don’t take them as such. Retain your sunny attitude by seeing a setback as an isolated event. Don’t generalise it and don’t make it sound like it’s exemplary for everything in your life or work.

Dealing with setbacks is easier when you share them with friends and colleagues. And doing so with Happiness Lab even affords you the opportunity to enjoy their support without them knowing who you are. And I’m sure you’ll return the favour.

Ask better questions

Your brain is a magnificent piece of biology. It’ll answer whatever question you ask it. And therein lies the trouble and the opportunity.

Ask sh*tty questions, and you’ll get rotten answers. Ask better questions, and you’ll get better answers. Ask really good questions, and you’ll get answers that’ll surprise you.

Better and surprising answers get you better results and that’ll help you believe and trust in a better future.

The key to asking better questions is to reframe problems as opportunities and focus on solutions.

However well that may work, you can do even better.

The superior way to better outcomes and more optimism is to focus on what goes well and ask questions about how you can do more of that. Added bonus is that you’ll naturally do less of what didn’t go so well.


Individual letters on different coloured squares, spelling “thank you”

Image by Vadim Vasenin

Practice Gratitude

Even if you think you don’t have anything to be grateful for, you always do.

You’re alive. You breathe. Your heart beats.

The sun always shines even if clouds are hiding it or it’s illuminating the other side of the Earth. Rain is a life-giver.

Reflect on what you’re grateful for and write it in a journal.

As a Harkn user, you have two options for that. You can use the “Tell us more” notes with your daily check-in or the “Reflections” tab and select “Gratitude” as the journal style.

Practising gratitude turns you into an optimist because it’ll change your focus to the good things in life and that’ll help you to expect more good things in the future.

Celebrate Wins

It’s so easy to forget what you’ve accomplished, and how far you’ve come.

To become more of an optimist, celebrate every success. Especially the tiny ones. Celebrating those releases the same nice rush of dopamine as celebrating more significant achievements. So why restrict yourself to those?

Harkn users can get a double whammy. When you share your wins on The Wall and you see your colleagues celebrating with you, you capitalise on them — multiplying the positive effect.

For bonus points, keep a “done well” journal and review it every week. You’ll be amazed at how much ammunition you’ll gather to keep the negative thoughts — that inner-critic — in check.

Make Your Well-Being a Priority

Managing your state and maintaining a positive outlook for the future is a lot easier when you get enough sleep, get regular R&R, eat well, and exercise regularly (a brisk walk is fine!)

And if you’re a Harkn user, use the check-in variations to your advantage.

Check-in variations are prompts that appear instead of the standard one every few times you check-in. There are 27 different prompts in total, each one designed to tune you into positive thoughts about your future and your past. So, don’t let them go to waste!

Colorful smiley on pavement

Photo by Devin Avery

Are You Ready to Become More of an Optimist?

The good news is: it’s 100% in your hands.

The bad news is: it’s 100% in your hands.

Optimism is a choice, and after a long dark night in my life, I think it’s the only choice.

Sure, life can beat you down, and optimism can’t cure cancer, but having a positive outlook on life and seeing the silver lining in the direst of circumstances, beats feeling down and out any day.

It’s essentially the choice between surviving and thriving.

This long list of benefits is fun to read and makes the choice even more of a no-brainer to me.

So, if you’re still on the fence, go read that and then make the choice to become more of an optimist. Your future self will thank you from the bottom of their heart.

Marjan Venema
Marjan Venema

Certified Content Marketing Expert, Connect with Marjan on LinkedIn

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