Sometimes it feels like it’s hard to be optimistic in the midst of stressful situations. But often this is due to a misunderstanding of what true optimism really means.
Theology of The Body reminds us that optimism isn’t rooted in wishing our problems away or telling ourselves pretty lies about how things aren’t really as bad as they seem. TOB explains that our optimism is rooted in the fact that at the beginning of time, God had a plan for the world and that–in spite of sin thwarting that plan in the present–God’s plan will be restored through grace at the end of time. The fact is, as St Paul reminds us in Rom 8:28 all things work to the good for those who love God.
A study by Boston University School of Medicine found that optimistic people live up to 15% longer and are up to 70% more likely to live to at least age 85.
This study demonstrated that optimism isn’t so much a trait as it is a skill made up of three qualities:
-Goal orientation: Rather than “thinking positively” optimistic people acknowledge that bad things are bad, but they ask. “What can I make of this?” (c.f. Rom 8:28).
-Gratitude: Optimistic people intentionally recall their blessings, strengths, and skills as a reminder of what they have to work with in responding to life’s challenges.
-Gregariousness: Optimistic people maintain a sense of community and actively work to find ways to be a blessing to others even when they are struggling.
So how do we become more optimistic in our daily lives?
1. Keep the Big Picture in Mind–Joy requires us to be able to step out of the chaos of everyday life and remember who we are and what’s important. This requires us to stay connected to God–to be able to see things from his point of view. Find ways to bring the present moment to God no matter how crazy it is. Ask him, “What do you want this moment to look like? How can I respond to this in a way that glorifies you?” Then re-engage the situation from this more graceful perspective. Keeping the big picture in mind helps you remain connected to what’s important
2. Be Kind–True joy comes from seeking little ways to be a gift to others all day long. As you go about your day, consciously ask yourself how you can make a difference in this moment? Is there something you can do to make this person’s day even a little easier or more pleasant? Is there something you can do to take down the tension in this situation? Is there some way you can surprise someone with a small thoughtful gesture or little act of service? You don’t have to be a martyr about it. In fact, it’s better if you aren’t. Just look for those little ways to be a gift or create caring connection while you’re passing by or passing through. These little acts of kindness increase your joy by helping you see all the ways you are making a positive difference in your world and in the lives of those around you.
3. Stay In School–Research shows that joyful people are eager students in the “school of life.” Joyful people are always open to seeing things from a new perspective, trying a new experience, and growing in ways that help them be stronger, healthier, more well-rounded people. Joyful people aren’t shy about sharing what they like. They know who they are and what they stand for, but they are open to discovering all the ways God is revealing himself to them through the people and the world around them. And the more ways we open ourselves to this experience of God the more his grace makes us joyful. So, be yourself, but don’t be afraid to be more, learn more and grow more.
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