Don’t Feel Bad if you Can’t Feel Optimistic

By: Nia Howard

man seated in chair looking down

Listen. It’s okay if you can’t seem to put yourself in a positive headspace. If, logically, you know that you should “look on the bright side,” but gratitude doesn’t actually change the way you feel. You’re no less than the optimist who never falters in staying positive, and you’re not “wrong” or misguided. It’s okay if you have a hard time feeling optimistic. In fact, sometimes there are things out of your control working against you.

The good news is that you do have the power to take control of your situation. Taking small steps, while definitely not a magic cure, can perhaps put you on the right track.

young woman kissing her dog

Out of your control: Negativity Bias.

It’s science—we love bad news. Research suggests that humans often gravitate towards negative information to make sense of the world. This explains why one bad encounter can ruin a generally pleasant day, or why finding a hair in your meal at your favorite restaurant can keep you from going back ever again.

How to deal with it: Seek out Good News.

Maybe we can’t change our negativity bias. But we can actively expose ourselves to good news. For every piece of bad news you hear throughout the day, balance it out with something uplifting. It can be as simple as following positive outlets on social media. Life is Good (#ShamelessPromotion) and The Dodo are two of my personal favorites.

Out of your control: Environment & Toxic Stress.

There are environments where it’s especially hard for people to find the good or feel safe enough to put their guard down. When you’re in a constant state of fight or flight, it can be extremely hard to shift your focus from the threatening situation at hand to a positive opportunity. Whether it’s a toxic relationship, work environment, or home life, spending a lot of time in a negative space can shape the way you see the rest of the world, and that’s not your fault.

How to deal with it: Find Safe Spaces.

Maybe you can’t get out of a toxic environment or situation just yet. We all know it’s easier said than done to “just leave.” But if you can, try to offset the negative stress or situation by finding a safe place you can go where you feel supported. This might be some kind of group, class, club, or team (virtual or in-person) where individuals encourage, empower, and uplift each other, a place where you feel in control of your body and activity.

woman drinking coffee

Out of your control: Mental Health.

Mental health is a huge factor in feeling optimistic, and when you’re dealing with mental illness (depression, anxiety, etc.), you might be fighting the chemistry of your brain. Even when you want to “look on the bright side,” sometimes you just can’t.

How to deal with it: Self-Care.

You deserve to feel optimistic and see the good around you, but that can be extremely difficult if you don’t take care of yourself. For some, self-care might mean saving time in the day to do something for yourself—to make your favorite meal, go to a spa, meditate, or work out. Self-care, however, might also mean finding outside help. If you’re struggling with your mental health, it might be a good idea to speak with a professional about helping you reach a positive headspace.

At the end of the day, finding positivity is a process, and we’re all on the same team. So no, don’t feel bad if you can’t feel optimistic right now. We’ll get there.

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