5 Ways to Harness Your Inner Optimist

by Katie Brickwood

What do you see when you think about your personal life and goals? What about when you think of broader world issues?

If your glass just started looking a little bit emptier, you’re not alone. Individual optimism and social pessimism (when we are relatively optimistic about our own future, yet at the same time deeply pessimistic about that of the world at large) is a growing trend. How can we, as social activists and entrepreneurs, be rationally optimistic for our collective future in the face of the negative headlines? Ignorance might be bliss, but surely it does not give way to the kind of innovative ideation, collaboration, and creation needed to design scalable social impact where it’s needed most… right?

Optimism, not ignorance

Optimism, as we see it, is not about being ignorant. It is not about turning a blind eye to the negative news, but about informing ourselves about global problems and challenges, striving to understand causes and consequences, and actively choosing to use this information for good by developing creative and innovative ways to turn challenges into opportunities.

“If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change the way you think about it.”

Mary Engelbreit

Optimism is a key ingredient of purpose

It’s no surprise: optimism and happiness are intrinsically linked. But the benefits of optimism reach far beyond just individual well-being.

Dr. Martin Seligman of the Positive Psychology movement asserts that optimism is invaluable for a meaningful life in which one seeks to discover their personal strengths and invest them in something larger than the self. Philosopher Dan Dennett’s advice on the secret of a purposeful life echoes that sentiment: “Find something more important than you are and dedicate your life to it.”

“Find something more important than you are and dedicate your life to it.”

You can improve your social optimism

Many of us struggle with social optimism. The 24-hour news cycle constantly reminds us that there’s a lot to be concerned about in the world right now. But, as epidemiologist and entrepreneur Larry Brilliant challenges us, ‘As we look at these trends, do we become despondent, or will we become energized?’

People who are able to look towards the future with optimism and see a world full of potential and hope are the ones who are energized to create change. So, how can we improve and harness our optimism for good? Here are 5 simple ways you can start now:

1. Change the channel

Living conditions around the world are continuously improving. More people than ever before are receiving a basic education. Fewer people are dying of famine, conflict, and disease. News outlets dedicated to reporting on the good, the progressive, and the innovative are popping up: Solutions U from the Solution Journalism Network, GOOD and Upworthy all produce stories that uplift, surprise, evoke empathy, and motivate action. Simply direct your attention to the channels that highlight the positive and the world will start looking a little bit brighter.

2. Create a community

Community is often overlooked in our highly individualistic Western societies, yet it is a key ingredient to achieving social impact through optimism. We simply work better together. Being part of a community makes us feel empowered, gives us the courage to confront challenges we might not dare confronting alone and unleashes the ultimate power that comes with the belief that our actions can make a difference.

3. Find a clear pathway to engage

So you’re optimistic and motivated to create social change… but now what? It’s not always easy to know how to harness this positive energy.

Related to finding a community, stepping outside your comfort zone to engage is one way to boost your optimism stock. Our various programs – be it social impact or finding a new career or entrepreneurship – all provide an opportunity to engage in meaningful new experiences.

4. Share stories of success

You’ve switched your news source to one of our recommended positive media outlets – awesome! But the task doesn’t end there. We all are equally responsible for generating and actively contributing to these good news stories. However small it might seem, sharing a positive story of success can have a ripple effect that’s larger than you might imagine. Harness your community (and your social media handles): Share. Inspire. Create change.

“The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn.”

5. Unlearn your habits

All this time we’ve been focused on how and why you should harness your optimism to do good. But what good is that for those of us who are… optimistically challenged?

We have more good news: although pessimistic tendencies are (to an extent) part of our character, they are also largely learned emotional behaviors and patterns which we have the ability to unlearn. As futurist Alvin Toffler said: “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn.”

Related: How to Reign In Fear and Invite Curiosity Instead

What next?

Take action! Being optimistic is, in fact, the most rational and highly impactful thing you can do with your life.

This is the time to make a real impact. It’s not a time to be despondent or scared, but a time to be energized and bold. It’s time to optimistically throw yourself into the task of discovering your purpose and committing yourself to doing work that matters, thereby harnessing your optimism for the greater good.

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