Editor’s Note: This article is one of the top 10 habits to adopt to be better at your job in 2016. See the full list here.
Optimists aren’t just people who see the glass half full. They also make more money than pessimists and enjoy health benefits such as fewer colds, a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, and a longer life.
That’s something to smile about.
“Children are born optimists and over the course of time, life happens,” says Jason Wachob, cofounder and CEO of the healthy living website MindBodyGreen.com. “Circumstances change and cynicism sets in, but deep down most of us want to get back to the optimism of our childhood.”
David Mezzapelle, author of Contagious Optimism, has studied optimistic people for five years: “Some people are naturally more optimistic,” he says. “I believe, however, that somebody who is negative or pessimistic can control it and improve upon it.”
Optimism isn’t a pie-in-the-sky ideal, says Mezzapelle. “It’s not closing your eyes and being in the clouds,” he says. “People often tell me they’re a realist, but reality alone may prevent you from getting past first base. Combine optimism with acceptance of the life you’ve been dealt, and the sky’s the limit.”
Like any healthy habit, Wachob says optimism is something you need to practice every day. He and Mezzapelle share seven traits optimists share and the habits you can implement to become one, too:
Being appreciative of big blessings isn’t enough; Mezzapelle says optimists are grateful for the smallest things in life.
“The sun coming up in morning, your child or dog excited to see you–being thankful about the littlest thing makes the bigger things that much better,” he says.
Optimists also find good in hardships, obstacles, and failures, because these are the situations that give you strength and resilience: “When optimists stumble across problems, it doesn’t seem as bad because they’ve learned to always find the silver linings,” Mezzapelle says.
Whether it’s helping at the local soup kitchen or being available to people you know, Wachob says giving back is a habit optimistic people practice.
“This helps you feel grateful for what you have,” he says. “It’s a good place to start if you want to become more optimistic.”
Mezzapelle agrees: “No matter what you’re going through, you need to be good to others and help when you can,” he says. “The spirit of altruism can make you feel optimistic about your own life.”
When people hear the stories of how others persevere, it fosters optimism, says Mezzapelle.
“People often think they’re alone in their struggles, such as divorce, cancer, or financial problems,” he says. “When they hear about people who’ve experienced the same thing and came out on the sunny side, it can give them hope, and hope is the foundation of optimism.”
Wachob says simply reading inspirational stories can help. “This is something everyone can do on a daily basis,” he says. “There are so many amazing stories about amazing people who overcome incredible odds.”
You are the sum of the people you spend time with, says Wachob.
“If you are with pessimists, every time you hang out with them it can be draining. If you’re with optimists, however, it’s easy to absorb that energy and it can be powerful.”
Mezzapelle likes a phrase coined by Olympic gymnast Mary Lou Retton: “Optimism is a happiness magnet.” “It’s true,” he says. “When you’re around people who are positive and upbeat, it brings you up.”
What other people do or say is a reflection of their own reality, not yours, says Mezzapelle. Optimistic people don’t take the opinions of others too seriously when they don’t agree.
This means not listening to the naysayers who will tell you that you can’t achieve your goals: “You can disagree with other opinions–that’s the beauty of life,” Mezzapelle says. “Don’t look at it any other way and don’t let it affect you. It’s their reality, not yours.”
While this can be easier said than done, Mezzapelle says optimists have an ability to forgive.
“The easiest way to forgive is to reflect on the fact that the past is the past,” he says. “Make peace with it so that it doesn’t spoil the present.”
Smiling creates a happy environment that draws others in, says Mezzapelle, and happiness, even in brief doses, releases serotonin, a hormone that contributes to the feeling of well-being.
Smiling also has health benefits; a study from the University of Kansas found that cracking a smile–even when you don’t feel like it–reduces the intensity of the body’s stress response, regardless of whether a person actually feels happy.