Fresh Perspective: How to Find Opportunities for Optimism


Fresh Perspective: How to Find Opportunities for Optimism

February 28, 2022

We all know someone whose life seems blessed. Maybe they have a job they love, the perfect partner, or a social media feed that’s full of exclamation marks and quotes about gratitude. You wish you could be that happy—if only you had more to be happy about.

But it’s worth asking yourself: Is that really true? What if you could be happier and more optimistic about what you do have in your life? The truth is, oftentimes a shift in perspective is more important for our happiness than the specific details of our lives, explains psychologist Stephanie Rodriguez, Ph.D.

It’s not that things like your family life or your job don’t matter. But optimism is not a baked-in worldview, nor is it totally dependent on circumstances. We know from psychological research that our happiness levels actually have a set point, Dr. Rodriguez says. When something good happens, our happiness increases for a bit, but it eventually returns to our set point. (The same is true for when bad things happen: We experience a dip, but soon return to our baseline.)

What this means is that we can actively work on our everyday mindset. “Optimism is a practice,” Dr. Rodriguez says. “Your attitude is a bit of both nature and nurture: We can come into this world with a pessimistic predisposition, and our environment probably influences it as well. But you can change it.”

Ahead, an exercise to help you practice.

Try the “Doors Opening” exercise.

This brief exercise, called “Doors Opening,” can help you re-frame and learn from previous negative experiences. By examining past disappointments, you can look for—and often find—positive aspects or results of these experiences, even if they were really tough. And this can help you see how even when it feels like a door is closing on you, there is almost always another door opening. Reflect on this and soon you’ll be seeing “open doors” more easily in the moment.

Ready to try it?

Start by thinking of three different times a door seemed to close on you. Maybe a big plan fell through, you were rejected by someone you loved, or you didn’t get the job you’d pinned all your hopes on. Now fill in the blanks to answer the following questions:

  • The most important door that ever closed on me was ____, and the door that opened on me was ____.
  • A door that closed on me through bad luck and missed opportunity was ____, and the door that opened was ____.
  • A door that closed on me through loss, rejection, or death was ____, and the door that opened was ____.

Write about your experiences with the door that closed and the door that opened afterward. Did you see the open door right away, or did it take a while for you to recognize it? Did the disappointment, sadness, or bitterness you felt about the closed door make it harder for you to see the open one? What can you do in the future to find the open door more quickly and easily?

One thing to keep in mind: Trying to find the positive in every situation doesn’t mean overlooking the negative. Experiencing loss, rejection, or trauma is still terrible. Feeling dissatisfied with your life, or yearning for something someone else has, still involves many valid emotions. “We can’t immediately put a positive spin on everything. That’s not authentic or genuine,” Dr. Rodriguez says. “You want to honor and validate your feelings before you jump right into the positive. It’s a process. But the silver lining is always there.”

Fresh Perspective: How to Find Opportunities for Optimism

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