To many people, optimism is simply a triumph over cynicism. It’s looking on the bright side. Seeing the glass as half full. Looking for opportunities rather than setbacks. When times are tough, it makes sense that we try to be optimistic because dwelling on things that are already bad won’t change them. Often, though, being optimistic doesn’t change anything. And if we aren’t careful, we can do ourselves more harm than good.
When we’re in a situation that’s truly devastating, trying to push down negative feelings in the name of optimism is futile and bad for our health.
A paper in the International Journal of Psychotherapy Practice and Research compiled multiple studies showing that inhibiting emotional expression can endanger our health, both physically and psychologically. In order to cope with life’s toughest challenges, we need to acknowledge our negative emotions while we appreciate the things that inspire us and bring joy. We need to express gratitude.
The Difference Between Optimism and Gratitude
Optimism is reliant on the future. It’s the hope of something better to come. While that’s a good posture to take when goal setting or gearing up for an exciting adventure, it can be false comfort in uncertain times. In contrast, gratitude is grounded in the present. It can exist alongside fear, grief, anxiety and a host of other negative feelings. When we don’t know enough about the future to be optimistic, gratitude allows us to find solace in the good things we have in the present.
At The ONE Thing we’re all about taking the first step, knocking down the smallest domino, and doing the simplest thing to start improving our well-being. When it comes to practicing gratitude, the first thing to address is our own mindset.
Be Mindful of Negative Emotions
Sometimes we need to recognize what’s not going well in our lives in order to be able to set it aside and focus on what’s good. Practicing mindfulness every day is a good way to take stock of yourself and your surroundings, allowing yourself to give credence to the negative thoughts in your head without dwelling on them.
Find a quiet, private moment in the day to express your doubts, fears, and frustrations in a journal, silently to yourself, or in whatever form helps you acknowledge them and put them in a metaphorical box. You can’t get rid of worries, sadness, and anger on command, but acknowledging their existence can help you move forward in spite of those feelings.
Take Stock of What You Have
Though we’re taught from grade school that we should count our blessings, most of us don’t make a habit of noting what we’re thankful for on a daily basis. When crisis strikes and we’re facing loss, we’re often not used to acknowledging the good things we have in detail. Luckily, there are habits we can form that expand our senses of gratitude.
A study in the journal Psychiatry explored techniques for enhancing gratitude such as journaling, writing thank-you notes, meditating on what you have, or saying the words “thank-you” several times a day. The study showed that even thinking about someone you’re grateful for on a regular basis can enhance your sense of gratitude.
Take the extra step and let the important people in your life know that you’re grateful for them.
Let Gratitude Lead You
Gratitude inspires response. Because they’re based in the current moment, feelings of gratitude can compel us to start meaningful conversations, take steps to preserve and protect the things that are important to us, and even go out of our way to help other people.
Where optimism is good for dreaming, gratitude makes it easier for us to see practical next steps through difficult situations. This is because we’re inspired by the things that matter right now. If you’re feeling paralyzed in a difficult time, figuring out what you’re thankful for can be your first step to get back in motion. Optimism can do wonders for our well-being when life is stable, but it’s gratitude that keeps us grounded, comforts us, and keeps us moving when the future is uncertain.
Whether you’re struggling through a tough time or holding steady, you can turn ONE small act of gratitude into a daily habit that will focus you and build your resilience for whatever is to come. We invite you to join our Living Your One Thing Community to get the support of other gratitude-minded leaders, or download our 66-Day Challenge calendar to keep track of your gratitude habits!