Do you have a sunny disposition? Are you always looking on the bright side? And is the cup always half full, never half empty? Well, congratulations are in order because you’re one of the lucky few for whom optimism comes naturally, and it’s a state of mind that comes with multiple benefits.
In fact, recent research carried out by the US National Academy of Sciences has found that erring on the positive side can have a significant impact upon our life span, even increasing it by up to 15 per cent, helping us to achieve life longevity up to the age of 85 and beyond. Notably, the scientists behind the study also believe that much of the research suggests that it’s a healthy extension of life, void of disease and disability as might be expected in older age, meaning the future might be looking bright provided we can train ourselves to think more positively: “Our brains are designed to see the glass as half empty so we need to interrupt our autopilot and adopt some new thinking,” according to health coach Milla Lascelles.
So for those who find it hard to see the silver lining, here are Vogue’s six tips for embracing your inner optimist:
Yes, you’ve heard it before, but living in the moment and experiencing life as it comes leads to an increased sense of calm. “A lot of people torture themselves over getting to ‘destination happiness’, and live preoccupied with the idea that happiness lies in the next place, the next job and with the next partner,” says Lascelles. “Until you give up the idea that happiness is somewhere else, it will never be where you are.” She recommends setting several periodic phone calendar invites each day to remind you to stop and take note of what you’re doing, breathe and observe your thoughts and feelings. It’ll help you proceed mindfully and, eventually, you won’t need a reminder.
Write down what you are grateful for
Start each morning by writing down what you are grateful for. Lascelles recommends focusing on the three Ps: a person, a pleasure and a promise that you are grateful for. It can be as menial as you like, but noting down the things that make a positive difference in your life can help change your mindset. “It brings instant happiness and joy, and can flick your emotions like a switch,” she explains.
The benefits that nature can have on our mental health have been well-documented. A recent study found that just 50 minutes walking in a city park led to happier moods, better memory and increased attention span for most people. While an extra 40 minutes on top of that and you‘ll notice brain-changing results that help protect the brain from depression. Getting outside helps regulate our cortisol levels, meaning we’re less likely to suffer from anxiety, low moods and stress, so it makes sense to utilise what’s free and on our doorsteps – even a relaxed lunchtime stroll will do the trick.
Remind yourself of the positive
“Negative experiences stick to the brain in microseconds, like velcro, whereas positive ones take at least 20 seconds of our attention to embed into our memories,” says Lascelles. “Rest your attention on a positive experience in your life and focus on it for 30 seconds. Put all your efforts into focusing on that experience and summon the happy memories you associated with it, bringing every element of your senses into the memory of it.” You’ll notice not just a renewed sense of positivity, but an increased ability to deal with stress, too.
Change the way you hold yourself
Ever heard of a power pose? Studies have shown that adopting postures in which we stand ‘expansively’ (open shoulders and a tall, upright and open stance) can help us feel more confident in ourselves. “Power poses can decrease cortisol levels by 25 per cent, so they’re fantastic for making you feel happier,” says Lascelles.
An everyday meditation practice can actually structurally change the human brain and help ease depression, physical pain and the kind of mind-wandering that leads to unceasing negative thoughts, while conversely increasing awareness. Download a meditation app like Calm or Headspace and do it daily, trying not to give up if it feels like it’s not working. It’s not a miracle cure, but it will help boost your mood: “It’s free. Do it,” says Lascelles.