Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Mastering Optimism in Three Easy Steps


“Kids are the worst!”

This phrase has become a family joke, used to diffuse frustrations in parenting. Most often, it’s in response to a child’s mischief of one kind or another. For example, my brother might call to moan that he hasn’t slept in nearly two years, since his daughter was born. I might respond, “I hear you,” followed by, “Kids are the worst!” (For the record, I love my children and do not truly believe they are the worst.) The joke has helped put tough parenting moments in perspective. Made in complete jest, it gets a good laugh and helps remind us that no parent has perfect days. Let’s face it; there are moments when “the only way to get through life is to laugh your way through it…[because] crying [will give you] a headache.”1

Light-hearted banter about life’s difficulties is one thing, but constantly complaining is no laughing matter. It’s human nature to criticize, grumble, find fault, and murmur. When we seem more likely to “mourn, or think our lot is hard,” how do we begin to see that “all is well"?2 How do we “refuse to remain in the realm of negative thought and cultivate within our hearts an attitude of gratitude”?3 Develop gratitude, and you become more optimistic.


As challenging as it can be to become more grateful and optimistic, it is something we must master. “As disciples of Christ, we are commanded to ‘thank the Lord [our] God in all things,’ to ‘sing unto the Lord with thanksgiving,’ and to ‘let [our] heart be full of thanks unto God.’”4 In addition, scriptures instruct, “be of good cheer,”5 and “in every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God.”6 There is little question that being grateful is a commandment, so why might God ask us to cultivate gratitude?

One possible answer is that “sincerely giving thanks not only helps us recognize our blessings, but it also unlocks the doors of heaven and helps us feel God’s love.”7 In addition, Dr. Robert Emmons has studied the effects of optimism for more than a decade. His research suggests that those who practice gratitude tend to be more creative, bounce back more quickly from adversity, have a stronger immune system, and have stronger social relationships than those who tend to be less grateful.8 It seems that we feel more content and more connected with heaven simply by learning to develop gratitude.


Although mastering optimism can seem daunting, your efforts will be returned in blessings, both physical and spiritual. Before deciding the task of optimism is too difficult to achieve, try following these three simple steps, and you will see yourself slowly moving closer to “giving thanks continually.”

1) Recognize where you are on the “Gratitude Spectrum.” 

There was a time in my life when I complained about every difficulty and thought I had it much tougher than others. Then I was diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer, a disease for which there is no cure, and realized that I did not want to spend the rest of my days being ungrateful for every breath.

I began working to move from a bad attitude to one of gratitude, through four major stages in what I call the “Gratitude Spectrum.”
  • Stage One: “This is the worst!” 
Complaining is the first reaction to difficulties. This is the least optimistic stage.
  • Stage Two: “They have it worse.” 
Only feeling better about your situation by comparing with others. (I don’t have it as bad as ______.)
  • Stage Three: “It could be worse.” 
Beginning to recognize that you have much from which to be grateful. (At least I’m not dealing with _______. I have to do _____, but it’s okay because______.)
  • Stage Four: “Today is a good day because….”
Consciously looking for the positive in every day, even during tough times. (I’m glad that_____. I’m thankful for ______. Today was great because _______.)
Assess where your attitude and reactions lie, on average. Move on to step two.


2) Make a conscious effort to implement actions that cultivate gratitude, which will help you gradually move to higher stages. Optimism will follow. 

Make a goal to do one thing each day to practice being more grateful. Personalize the ideas to fit your personality, learning style, and talents. The options are endless, but a few ideas include: 

  • Express thanks to others, written or verbal. 
  • Smile more, even to strangers.
  • Pray for help; say thankful prayers in which you ask for nothing.
  • Exercise. Give thanks for a healthy body.
  • Spend more time in nature; use all your senses. 
  • Unplug and meditate.
  • Read inspirational/uplifting quotes, books, and articles.
  • Place notes (reminders or quotes) around your house, car, or desk.
  • Keep a thankful journal/keep lists of your gratitude.
  • Volunteer; serve others. 
  • Use an object--charm bracelet or special souvenir--to trigger happy memories. Let special objects prompt thankful thoughts.
  • Replace complaints with gratitude. When you catch yourself complaining, stop and say something positive. 
  • Ask friends/family for help. Make it a family goal.

3) Reassess and repeat! 

As life changes and you experience different challenges, it will be necessary to reevaluate your level of gratitude and hope; continue working through the stages. Optimism, like testimony, is something that must be continually practiced in order to remain strong. If you find yourself sliding backward on the “Gratitude Spectrum,” don’t lose hope. Give yourself a break, set new goals, and implement a new gratitude exercise. Every day is another day to work on your overall level of positivity.

Developing gratitude, even in difficult times, is the best way to become more optimistic. As gratitude improves, your overall hope and faith becomes stronger, and you begin to better understand that all of your experiences can be for your good.9 Optimism will help you learn to laugh, no matter how frustrating your kids (or parents, pets, students, neighbors, coworkers, etc.) may be. In following these three, simple steps, you will soon be able to “see the glass half full” and be able to face any trial with an attitude of, “this too shall pass.”



Melodee Cooper is a Texan by birth, an Aggie by choice, the wife of a fellow Aggie because “he loves her more,” and a mother of three boys by a combination of time, modern science, and divine intervention. She has taught both 5th and 6th grade math and science, and is now able to be a stay-at-home mom, an amateur decorator, a crafter, a blogger, and a holiday enthusiast. She is battling Stage 4 cancer while remaining optimistic and grateful for the blessings in her life.

Sources:
1. Quoted in Virginia H. Pearce, ed., Glimpses into the Life and Heart of Marjorie Pay Hinckley (1999), 107.
2. "Come, Come, Ye Saints," Hymns, no. 30, verse 2.
3. Thomas S. Monson, “An Attitude of Gratitude,” April 1992.
4. Dieter F. Uchtdorf, “Grateful in Any Circumstances,” Ensign, May 2014.
5. See John 16:33, Acts 27:22, 3 Nephi 1:13, D&C 61:36, and others.
6. 1 Thessalonians 5:18.
7. Thomas S. Monson, “The Divine Gift of Gratitude,” Ensign, November 2010.
8. See: The Journal of Positive Psychology, Gratitude Works!: A 21-Day Program for Creating Emotional Prosperity, and Thanks! How the New Science of Gratitude Can Make You Happier.
9. See D&C 122:7.







2 comments:

  1. I really love this perspective. Thank you.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thank you for tying optimism to gratitude. I could definitely work on implementing your suggestions in my life!

    ReplyDelete