The Brighter Side of Life

Gene Kelly in “Singin’ in the Rain,” 1952

Did you know that “studies suggest that adopting a sunnier outlook may improve your health and even extend your life”? It’s true! In an article published on February 14, 2017, titled, Look on the Bright Side and Maybe Even Live Longer,” in Harvard Health Publishing (author’s name not mentioned), it states:

In these turbulent times, it’s sometimes a struggle to maintain a glass-half-full view of life. But if you can, it may serve you well. A growing body of research links optimism—a sense that all will be well—to a lower risk for mental or physical health issues and to better odds of a longer life.

One of the largest such studies was led by researchers Dr. Kaitlin Hagan and Dr. Eric Kim at Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Their team analyzed data from 70,000 women in the Nurses’ Health Study who, in 2004, had answered questions about how they viewed their futures.

The researchers found that women who scored higher on the optimism scale were significantly less likely to die from several major causes of death over an eight-year period, compared with women who scored lower. In fact, compared to the most pessimistic women, the most optimistic had a 16% lower risk of dying from cancer, 38% lower risk of dying from heart disease, 39% lower risk of dying from stroke, 38% lower risk of dying from respiratory disease, and 52% lower risk of dying from infection.

How you can acquire optimism

Even if you consider yourself a pessimist, there’s hope. Dr. Hagan notes that a few simple changes can help people become more optimistic. “Previous studies have shown that optimism can instilled by something as simple as having people think about the best possible outcomes for various areas of their lives,” she says. The following may help you see the world through rosier glasses:

Accentuate the positive. Keep a journal. In each entry, underline the good things that have happened and things you’ve enjoyed, and concentrate on them. Consider how they came about and what you can do to keep them coming.

Eliminate the negative. If you find yourself ruminating on negative situations, do something to short-circuit that train of thought. Turn on your favorite music, reread a novel you love, or get in touch with a good friend.

Act locally. Don’t fret about your inability to influence global affairs. Instead, do something that can make a small positive change—like donating clothes to a relief organization, helping clean or replant a neighborhood park, or volunteering at an after-school program.

Be easier on yourself. Self-compassion is a characteristic shared by most optimists. You can be kind to yourself by taking good care of your body—eating well, exercising, and getting enough sleep. Take stock of your assets and concentrate on them. Finally, try to forgive yourself for past transgressions—real or imagined—and move on.

Learn mindfulness. Adopting the practice of purposely focusing your attention on the present moment and accepting it without judgment can go a long way in helping you deal with unpleasant events. If you need help, many health centers now offer mindfulness training. There are books, videos, and smartphone apps to guide you. (Quote source here.)

In an article published in Psychology Today on October 21, 2020, titled, Why Does Looking on the Bright Side Work,” by Nicola Gates, Ph.D., registered Clinical Neuropsychologist, neuroscience researcher, and best-selling author, she writes:

COVID-19 is profoundly impacting the lives of people, communities, and nations. The universal message is that COVID-19 has wrought profound change in our daily lives. For some that change may include grief and/or overwhelming stress however, many report hope and are optimistic about the future.

An international research project which examined individual responses to COVID-19 found that most respondents believe that COVID-19 can enable us to have a better life. The aptly titled survey, ‘The Better Normal’ project from Australia’s Optimism Centre has collected responses from over 2500 people from 24 countries, and this study is ongoing. The results indicate that most of us are hopeful and are actively engaging in activities to build and reinforce positive emotion.

Now that we are into the long phase of living with COVID-19 it is an ideal time to regroup and harness this groundswell of optimism so we can reap the benefit of the positive changes and make things better as individuals and as a society.

Optimism can simply be thought of as the belief that things will work out positively in the end. It is not Pollyanna thinking that everything is wonderful or naïve that there are no problems, but the expectation that things will ultimately get better. Research indicates that optimistic thinking people are better at coping with difficult situations and adversity than pessimistic people.

Being optimistic drives curiosity to find a way out of a problem situation. Alternatively, optimistic people will move on if they cannot alter the situation and instead channel their effort and energy elsewhere. Either way, they move forwards and their optimism means they are energized and find the good in order to make things better. In the time of COVID-19 optimists have looked to make the ‘new normal’ better, and along the way they have improved their resilience and their health.

Thinking positively or optimistically has been shown to improve your health, feel healthier, and enjoy greater well-being. Optimists also tend to engage in activities to protect their health as they recognize they have control and self-responsibility for their health and recovery. They are more likely to engage in physical exercise, eat a good diet, sleep well, and follow medical advice, which not only reduces their likelihood of getting sick but also improves their recovery and recuperation from illness. Optimists see a better health future and take action to make it happen. Positivity boosts the immune system and evidence from the Nun Study suggests that optimistic or positive thinking people live longer.

Although we are all born with a unique temperament or predisposition, being a combination of genes and early life experience, research from the last decade indicates that we can cultivate and develop an optimistic and positive outlook. It is estimated that optimism is only about 25 percent inheritable and perhaps the same amount can be attributed to other factors that are out of our control, but the rest is how we live and view our life experience. Being an optimist by nature I think that presents an exciting opportunity for positive growth.

The simplest thing to do to become positive and optimistic is to put time and energy into focusing on the positive, finding the joys, or as Rick Hansen says, “focus on the good.” If that sounds too hard, perhaps think of all the things you want to remain the same or keep as they must be right for you, and instead of perhaps taking them for granted begin to appreciate them. The next simple trick is to find purpose in work and life and sometimes that means only changing how you think about or value the things you currently do.

Research from the Optimism Centre during COVID-19 indicates that the most popular positive actions that have increased optimism were engaging in regular positive conversations, expressing gratitude, sharing positive stories of hope and optimism, along with yoga and exercise, and simply smiling at people. We know from neuroscience research that mood is contagious, so a good way to become positive and optimistic is to spend time with positive people and to put your positivity back out there to build the positive loop.

We also know from neuroscience that the brain is dynamic and by changing our thinking to be optimistic and positive we change our brain. Change is one thing humans do remarkably well, even if we don’t like it. We can adapt as we have always done: Remember, we have survived ice ages and many plagues. Being able to manage change is something we have evolved to do, and if we can be optimistic and see the positive we will create what we want, a better normal. We have got this. (Quote source here.)

Now let’s take a look at what the Bible has to say about optimism. The following article is taken from GotQuestions.org at this link:

Optimism is “the tendency to expect the best possible outcome or to dwell on the most hopeful aspects of a situation.” Optimists usually feel that “good things” will happen in the future or that what they hope and dream for will happen. By nature, most people tend toward either optimism or pessimism, regardless of their relationship with God. Everyone’s glass is either “half full” or “half empty.” So, optimism is not necessarily the same as faith in God. It can be a natural personality trait that has nothing to do with faith.

Worldly optimism is not based on faith in God. Many unbelievers simply refuse to worry because life is more pleasant that way. “Don’t worry; be happy” is their motto. They may place their faith in any number of lesser gods, such as karma, denial, the “universe,” or intentional ignorance. This may work temporarily, but it is a misplaced optimism with no real foundation. Optimistic people find more enjoyment in life and are usually more pleasant to be around because they refuse to worry about things they cannot control. However, simply because a person appears optimistic does not mean that he has great faith in God or that her faith is appropriately placed.

Without realizing it, some Christians also place their faith in a “lesser god” because they have a misunderstanding of faith. They may stubbornly cling to the belief that they will receive whatever they want simply because they believe it hard enough. They take care to appear outwardly optimistic because they fear that “negative confessions” might cancel out their prayer requests. Or they simply cling to the notion that there’s power in positive thinking. This is false optimism because it is not based on the sovereign nature of God but on their own ability to believe hard enough to get what they want. This can lead to confusion and disillusionment with God when their requests remain unfulfilled.

Biblical optimism is the result of faith in the character of God. The Bible refers to this ashope.” Romans 15:13 says, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” When we hope in God, we put our trust in His sovereign plan above what our circumstances tell us. Romans 8:23–35 explains it this way: “But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.” Paul is speaking of our future reward and the things thatGod has prepared for those who love him” (1 Corinthians 2:9).

Regardless of what may happen in this life, we know that God sees, cares, and will “wipe every tear from our eyes” when we are forever with Him (Revelation 21:4). That confidence can give us an optimistic outlook, even in difficult circumstances. Biblical optimism does not place so much emphasis on earthly events. It can accept difficult circumstances because it believes that “all things work together for good to those who love God and are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28). Godly hope looks beyond what we understand to view life from God’s perspective.

God designed us to live with hope. Psalm 43:5 says, “Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.” Optimism is a choice. When we choose to trust God for everything, we can rest in His promises to take care of us the way He sees fit (Philippians 4:19Luke 12:30–31). We can “cast our care upon him” (1 Peter 5:7), “let our requests be made known unto God” (Philippians 4:6), and accept His “peace that passes all understanding” (Philippians 4:7). Knowing that we have a loving heavenly Father who desires to care for us and provide for us should give every child of God a reason for true optimism (Matthew 6:8Luke 12:29–31). (Quote source here.)

In contrast, GotQuestions.org also states the following about pessimism at this link:

Pessimism is the tendency to see the worst in things and expect the worst possible outcome. A pessimist is a person who sees the glass half empty and wants to point it out to others. Pessimists sometimes prefer to call themselvesrealists; however, reality is usually not as dark as they claim it is. Some people are by nature optimistic. They see the sunshine in every day and find the silver lining on every cloud. Others seem to have been born with a darker disposition and see no need to change it since “that’s just the way I am.” But, even if pessimism is just the way we are, should we remain that way?

The opposite of pessimism is hope, and the Bible is a book of hope (Psalm 119:105Proverbs 6:23). The Lord is the God of all hope (Romans 15:13). From Genesis to Revelation, God weaves His theme of hope into the story of man’s sin and sin’s consequences. While many events recorded in the Bible seemed dark and hopeless at the time, God always offered a way to be restored (Deuteronomy 30:1–2Zechariah 1:3). God’s ongoing offer of restoration should trump our natural pessimism.

Another way to think of pessimism is faithlessness. It is impossible to have faith while being pessimistic. Pessimists preview a future without God in it—or maybe a God who doesn’t care—but Jesus showed God’s love and offers a bright future (Romans 5:8Titus 2:13).

We were doomed by our sin to an eternity without God, and we had no way to save ourselves (Romans 3:236:23). In that condition, we had a right to be pessimistic. “Life is hard, and then you die” is an accurate statement for those refusing God’s gift of forgiveness and eternal life. But, for the Christian, the saying can be modified: “Life is hard, but Jesus is with me. And when I die, heaven awaits!” Jesus told His followers, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). Because His victories are our victories, the knowledge that Christ has overcome the world should turn pessimists into optimists (Romans 8:37).

Extreme pessimism is not the same as realism, just as extreme optimism is not realism. Realists attempt to see life as it actually is, not as they would like it to be. Pessimism acknowledges the facts and then speculates about how much worse they will become. But the Christian, whose faith rules out pessimism, simply acknowledges the facts as they exist and then entrusts them to the miracle-working God (1 Peter 5:7Proverbs 3:5–6Psalm 33:20). Psalm 42:5 should become the prayer of everyone with pessimistic tendencies: “Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.”

Pessimists can retrain their negative thinking to that which honors the Lord (2 Corinthians 10:5). We can look at a situation realistically, but we don’t need to stop there. Faith requires us to push past what we can see and understand. Scripture is filled with examples of God working in supernatural ways to turn a truly negative situation into good for His people. Second Kings 6:15–17 recounts the story of Elisha and his servant being surrounded by an army. The servant was terrified, but Elisha calmly told him, “Don’t be afraid. . . . Those who are with us are more than those who are with them” (verse 16). He then asked the Lord to open his servant’s eyes. God answered, and the servant was astounded to see the “hills full of horses and chariots of fire” protecting them. Elisha’s optimistic faith in God trumped his servant’s pessimism.

Christians should view their pessimism as a negative trait to be overcome. When we are filled with the Holy Spirit, He brings with Him love, joy, peace, and a new ability to believe God (Galatians 5:22). Love “always hopes” (1 Corinthians 13:7). We should learn to listen to our own words, which can become negative by habit. When we are intentional about speaking only truth and responding to our situations in faith in God’s Word, our pessimism can change into optimism. (Quote source here.)

I’ll end this post with these encouraging words from Jesus found in Matthew 28:18-20: Then Jesus came to them [his disciples] and said–All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely…

I am with you always . . .

To the very end . . .

Of the age . . .

YouTube Video: “Breathe” by Michael W. Smith:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here