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Tired of Negativity? How to Become an Optimist

04/04/2015 10:46 EDT | Updated 06/04/2015 05:59 EDT
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Are you a happy person? I mean, do you generally look at life optimistically, or are you more pessimistic or realistic or even -- gulp -- negative?

If you're not sure, you can test yourself with the glass-half-full analogy. Do you see the glass as half-full or half-empty? Or maybe you just think the glass is too small?

Some people are born optimists and some people are born negative. Fortunately, that doesn't mean you can't change and become more optimistic. Although the world these days seems to encourage pessimism, it doesn't mean you have to be that way, and it doesn't mean you have to stay that way if you are already pessimistic by nature.

I recently heard a speaker by the name of Dr. Martin Seligman. Don't worry if you haven't heard of him, but check out his site.

He shared a few simple thoughts on happiness that I've been implementing. I am amazed at their simplicity and their effect. Now, I am a naturally optimistic person; that doesn't mean that I'm happy and positive all the time, but it is my default position. I found that after doing a few of the things Dr. Seligman suggested, it was even easier to be positive.

I'm married to someone who isn't as naturally optimistic as I am. Warren isn't negative, but his nature is somewhere between generally optimistic and generally pessimistic.

Warren was my true litmus test on whether Dr. Seligman's suggestions made sense and whether they worked. Warren and I talked about what each of the points below looked like for each of us, and why we want to be naturally optimistic. It made sense for us both to want to be optimistic, and I'm assuming it makes sense to you as well.

Optimistic does not mean you need to be Suzy (or Sammy) Sunshine all the time. You don't have ignore the dark part of the cloud, and be sickeningly sweet all day. It does mean, however, that you default to seeing the positive, or are able to get yourself to see (and believe) that positive things can happen to you.

First, Dr. Seligman used the acrostic PERMA, which represented:

P - Positive emotion

E - Engagement

R - Good relationships

M - Meaning and purpose

A - Achievement and accomplishment

How do you rank in each of those categories? If you are feeling unappreciated at work or in your personal relationships, it will affect your PERMA. If you go to the site Pursuit of Happiness and click on "Science of Happiness" and then select "How do you measure happiness?" you will find a number of free tests (they are in the public domain) to see how you rank and whether you're generally an optimistic person. You'll also find quite a few solutions as well. It is well worth checking it out to see where you currently are.

One, and oh so simple, solution I want you to try is as follows:

Every night, as you are closing your eyes and about to go to sleep, think of three things that you are grateful for, or that made you happy that day. It's that simple. Anyone can (and should) do this at some point during the day. I prefer the right-before-sleep time of the day. Warren and I do this together every night after we turn out the lights. The first couple of times it seemed a little forced and a bit goofy, but now (and this happened in less than a week), it seems natural and a great way to end the day.

My three things from last night were:

- I was able to see my mom for dinner;

- I had a restful night of sleep (being a 49-year-old woman has taught me not to take that for granted any more); and

- I was feeling really good after our workout that day and was pleased that I had given it my all.

I smiled as I shared these silly things, and I had some good endorphins floating through my system as I went to sleep. I felt generally better and certainly more optimistic. even though I knew I was getting up at 5 a.m. the next day (which I have a hard time thinking positively about).

Make it your goal to focus on three positive things each day. If you find that work is where your PERMA is suffering, try to find three positive things at work (and vice-versa for your personal life). Through this very simple activity, I promise you'll enjoy your life more, you'll sleep better and you'll probably even like your job a little more.

Check out some of the tests you see on Dr. Seligman's website. .

Think about your own default position. Are you naturally optimistic, pessimistic, realist or negative? Is there room for improvement for you?

What three things that made you happy today?