If the grass looks greener on the other side…
And START watering the grass you’re standing on!
Truly, the most powerful weapon against daily stress is our ability to choose one thought, or response, over another. I was reminded of this today when a course student named Sarah sent me the following in an email (I’m sharing this with permission):
“I sat down with my two daughters, ages six and eight, this afternoon to explain to them that we have to move out of our four-bedroom house and into a two-bedroom apartment for a year or two until I can find another job and build our savings back up. It’s a conversation I’ve been avoiding for over a month, as I’ve struggled with the doubts and regrets of not being able to provide a financially stable household for us. But my daughters just looked at each other after I told them, and then my youngest daughter turned to me and asked, ‘Are we all moving into that apartment together?’ ‘Of course,’ I immediately replied. ‘Oh, so no big deal then,’ she said.”
Is that not the most mindful, optimistic response imaginable?
I hope it inspires you to follow suit. Train your mind to see the bits of good in everything, even when it’s hard. The peace and happiness of your life in the long run heavily depends on the quality of your daily thoughts and responses.
Optimism is your choice today. It’s not an inborn trait bestowed on a lucky few—it’s a skill that can be learned and honed. Let those two little girls be your guides, and allow me to fill in the gaps…
Since there is no one-size-fits-all, step-by-step guide to being more optimistic, I’ve compiled a short list of strategies that we’ve successfully implemented with our course students, coaching clients, and live event attendees over the years. Here are some little things they now do differently:
1. Optimists make optimal use of the available options.
Most people get irritated by those who seem “too optimistic,” but this is often just an unfortunate misinterpretation of the difference between an optimist and an idealist. An optimist is really just a positive realist who is neither naive, nor in denial, nor blind to the realities of life.
An optimist believes in the optimal usage of all the available options, no matter how narrow the supply. As a result, optimistic people are able to better see the bigger picture. They can more accurately visualize and mange the present possibilities. For comparison’s sake: An idealist focuses only on the absolute best aspects of situations, a pessimist sees no positive possibilities at all, and an optimist strives to see all the possibilities so they can find the best possible option among them.
So, when picking lemons off a lemon tree, an idealist reaches for the ripest looking lemon and expects it to be the tastiest, a pessimist settles for whichever one is closest, while an optimist picks all the lemons in sight and makes lemonade. (Marc and I further discuss this habit of optimism in the Happiness chapter of our New York Times bestseller, Getting Back to Happy: Change Your Thoughts, Change Your Reality, and Turn Your Trials into Triumphs.)
2. Optimists respect themselves.
As a child, you impressed and inspired yourself on a daily basis. You ran, jumped, swung, sang and danced openly without a care in the world, and without worrying about what everyone else thought of you. You didn’t need anyone else’s constant approval, because deep down you knew you were amazing.
As you grew into adulthood, the pressure from peers, popular media and society as a whole began to wear on you. You started comparing yourself to everyone around you. You judged and measured your body, your lifestyle, your career, and your relationships against other people’s lives. And when you realized that many of these people have things that you do not, bitterness set in and you gradually stopped appreciating all the great things you do have in your life.
Optimists defend themselves against this self-dislike in two primary ways. First, they get back to trusting their own intuition when it comes to their daily activities. They stop asking for everyone else’s approval and simply do what they know in their heart feels right. Second, optimists don’t judge themselves against a set of unrealistic, third-party ideals. They let go of the ideals and instead hold on to the belief that they are always good enough just the way they are, even as they grow into stronger, wiser versions of themselves.
3. Optimists disconnect happiness from achievement.
In order to be optimistic, you have to be generally content with your life. In order to find this contentment, you have to look within yourself. Happiness, after all, is an inside job.
If you look for happiness outside yourself, by tying it to a specific achievement you must reach for example, you have two big problems:
- You may never succeed. – If you feel like something is wrong with you and needs to be fixed, but you continuously fall short of fixing it, you will start yourself on a downward spiral where every time you fail to fix it you feel even worse. Eventually you will be unable to succeed simply because you no longer believe in your ability to do so.
- You may succeed and decide you want even more. – If you feel like something is wrong with you and needs to be fixed, and you succeed at fixing it, you will likely find something new about yourself that needs fixing too. Maybe you’ve lost 20 pounds, but now you want tighter abs. Maybe you’ve paid down your debt, but now you want a bank account with a million dollars in it. You get the idea. It’s a never-ending cycle for your entire life. You never reach it, because you’re always looking for happiness from external achievements. You don’t find the happiness from within so you look to other sources.
Optimists disconnect achievement from happiness and give themselves permission to be happy in each moment without the need for anything more. This isn’t to say that they are complacent. They still set goals, work hard, help others, and grow, but they learn to indulge joyously in the journey, not the destination. (Read Buddha’s Brain.)
4. Optimists keep good company.
You are only as good as the company you keep, and misery loves company. If you spend too much time around negative people, there’s a strong chance you won’t find much to be happy about. Do yourself a favor and dodge other people’s negativity. Surround yourself with positive, emotionally supportive friends and spend time together doing things that make you smile.
Optimism is a learned habit, and it is positively contagious. So surround yourself with people who could infect you with positivity, and then pass your new good mood on to a friend or stranger via kind words and deeds – tell a friend how good they look today, let somebody have that parking space, let that person with only a few items cut in front of you at the market. The simple act of doing something nice for those around you will help create more positive people to interact with.
The bottom line is that life is way too amazing and short to waste time with people who don’t treat you right. Surround yourself with people who lift you up when you’re down, and then return the favor when you’re able.
5. Optimists embrace life’s ups and downs.
Just because you’re an optimist doesn’t mean you’re not going to have bad days. You will, that’s reality. Life isn’t always rainbows and butterflies. A foundation of realism keeps things in perspective and helps prevent things from being blown out of proportion.
Expecting life to be wonderful all the time is wanting to swim in an ocean in which waves only rise up and never come crashing down. However, when you recognize that the rising and crashing waves are part of the exact same ocean, you are able to let go and be at peace with the reality of these ups and downs. It becomes clear that life’s ups require life’s downs.
Bottom line: Prepare for the downs but capitalize on the ups; the former makes you sensible and the latter makes you an optimist. (Read Learned Optimism.)
6. Optimists use positive language and gestures.
It’s not always what happens that determines your mood, but how you verbalize and express what happens that counts.
For instance, when an optimist experiences a bout of success she might say, “That’s just as I had anticipated; I studied hard and my diligence paid off,” while a pessimist might say, “Goodness, was I lucky to get a good grade on that test,” not giving herself any credit and literally snatching her own defeat from the hands of victory.
If an optimist encounters a do-it-yourself project she can’t figure out, she’s likely to say something like, “Either the instructions I’m following are unclear, or this project is going to require a bit more effort than I thought, or maybe I’m just having a rough day.” In other words, an optimist uses positive self-talk to keep the struggle outside herself (“the instructions”), specific (“more effort”), and temporary (“a rough day”), while the pessimist would likely get down on herself and interpret the same struggle as internal, widespread, and everlasting.
Go ahead and follow in the optimist’s footsteps by speaking to yourself in a more positive way regardless of whether you succeed or fail, and you’ll gradually become more optimistic.
Physical body language is also important. Your smile actually influences your mood in a positive way. When you feel down, your brain tells your face that you’re sad, and your facial muscles respond by putting on a frown, which in turn conveys a message back to your brain that says, “Yep, we’re feeling unhappy.” You can flip the switch on this internal reaction by adjusting your facial muscles into a smile so they don’t correspond to what you’re feeling. This is a clever way of sending a different message back to your brain: “Hey, life is still pretty good and I’m doing OK.” Your brain will respond by gradually changing your mood accordingly.
(Note: Our New York Times bestseller, Getting Back to Happy: Change Your Thoughts, Change Your Reality, and Turn Your Trials into Triumphs, is an easy-to-read guide that will gradually make you more optimistic, guaranteed.)
Now, it’s your turn…
Please leave a comment below and let me know what you think of this article.
What resonated? What helps boost YOUR optimism?
I’d love to hear from YOU. 🙂
And finally, if you haven’t done so already, be sure to sign-up for our free newsletter to receive new articles like this in your inbox each week.
Excellent post. Your emails and links to new posts always land in my inbox when I need to read them most. Thank you.
My additions to the conversation:
1) Exercise energizes my body and mind to take on the challenges of the day, and always lifts my spirits.
2) I love having a live plant in my office. It’s nice to enter the room or turn around and see a thing of natural beauty. It somehow makes me feel more alive.
PS. Think Better, Live Better 2019 was truly life-changing! Thank you for the experience! Looking forward to next year.
Vicky Williams says
Oh dear what a lovely read from start to finish. The young lady who sent you the info that trigger your answer to the grass greener on the other side has given you something great. I enjoy the reading and see how I can be more optimistic in my life. I start my day with a prayer thanking my Creator for keeping me throughout the night and given. me another day to rise and shine. Then I declare a blessing over my family and self to have good health, peace and direction for the day.
I feel I am the director of my life, I am writing the script so I must be optimistic about my life. Thanks for this I was just looking up a comprehensive answer for the grass is greener on the other side.
No one is sure the big car I am driving is not giving me headache to pay for. Grass may smile not be greener as we thought. Thank you I must read it again.
Three things makes me feel better and more optimistic:
1. A good run – makes me feel alive
2. A good read, like this one 🙂 – makes me remain positive
3. A good post on my blog – makes me think.
The difference between idealist and optimist is brought out really well. Key takeaway from this – Optimists are not born; Optimism can be learned.
Thanks for the insight. And thanks for your amazing book, too!
Great in-depth advice on being optimistic! To me, optimism is purposely chosing a helpful perception – from reframing a stressful situation to a challenge, or focusing on what you do have instead of what you don’t. I love how you write that optimists aren’t blind for the realities in life – such an important distinction. Thank you for sharing Marc and Angel…for all that you share on your blog, and the private coaching sessions I completed with you last year. I’ve been making a bunch of progress by putting your teachings to the test.
Lori Anne says
Through adversity, I acquired an inner knowing that no matter what happens to me or around me, I am the ‘soul’ source of my experience of reality. I am both the architect and the artist of my perception of this life, dependent on my point of view. A point of view which heavily depends upon living fully in the present moment. I hold an unfailing ability to see love, joy, beauty and grace in the world. Everyone does. Once you have seen this truth, you cannot un-see it.
This doesn’t mean I am happy all the time or bad things do not, or will not happen to me. It does not mean that I do not feel compassion for the suffering of others. It is actually the opposite. I feel everything even more keenly.
This ‘Way’ of being in the world, of seeing the world as inherently good, of life as ultimately hopeful, and beautiful and sacred, is an exercise in flexing my ‘intention’ muscle every day. This loving outlook is an awareness I cultivate consciously. It is my spiritual practice of divine perspective. It is an intention of being a non-judgmental observer of myself and others. It involves, much of the time, my being unreasonably optimistic.
Love this Angel. I have always gravitated towards negativity but I actually think as I get older I tend to look more on the bright side. And I LOVE #3. Long lasting happiness (or what I prefer to call joy) is never fueled by achievement 🙂
I really liked it. Thank you for sharing. Wonderful read.
Like Tareese said, your new posts always arrive at the right time. All the points you make for an Optimist are so good. My favourite is number 2….. Be Happy with who you are!
Gai Nguyen says
The story of the little 6-year-old girl is the best evidence of optimism. If a change makes no bad consequence, then it’s nothing to feel bad about. Thanks a lot for the lesson.
Whenever life throws those curve balls, I always say to myself, “This isn’t happening TO me, it’s happening FOR me.” This one sentence prevents me from falling into a victim mentality, reminds me to look at the bigger picture, and find the life lessons that can be learned from the experience at hand.
#3 resonated today. I sometimes worry that my drive to continue growing, personally and in business, means in an underlying way that I’m unhappy with how my life is right now (not true). This helped put words to how I feel. Thanks for that. I’m enjoying the journey! Make it a great day! Xo – Megan
margie cruz says
god bless you, you always lift me up.Thank you so much
Marc and Angel,
I’m learning to live in now. I’m struggling to remind myself that I deserve happiness, from being beaten down hard for four years now, from a toxic alcoholic brother, who is jealous of my Faith and optimism. And he is the most negative person I have ever met in my life. Our father passed away and he has made it his mission to destroy me. He was doing a pretty good job of it despite my efforts and positivity. My life is pretty difficult right now and I need help with bills, and to get stay away from this not good person, to put it mildly. I am learning to accept myself, for who I am and your article reminded me that life is short. I have been thinking about this a lot lately. I’m 56 years old now. Sadly I don’t have any family, but my friends are my family. They may not be physically close distance wise, but they surround me and they are so close in spirit. I was asked by a friend at church the other day if they could do anything at all to help, I shrugged and said the typical no but thank you. Later I called my friend and told him that I did need his help and what I needed help with specifically. I woke up and was brave enough to ask for his help and feel worthy of someone helping me. He jumped into action. Not that things are rosy or fixed yet, but your article reminded me to look around me in the hardest times and reach out, don’t curl up in a ball and let the haters defeat you. I’m a fighter, only in the sense that I don’t let people tell me things are impossible, but I’m not a fighter to stand up for myself against harsh disrespectful bullying people. I’m learning to feel secure and confident with myself. Finally. And that it’s ok to be happy even when someone has a plan to make you as unhappy as possible. I know I have more on me than most people and more than I should, as people have told me, but I am also realizing that I have so many people around me that can and want to help also. I’m letting the guilt leave me, and give myself a break, about trying to help a mentally ill brother and not being able to, because he won’t get help and doesn’t want help. I just Pray he doesn’t hurt some innocent person because he always drives drunk as a skunk. I don’t know who to tell about this to make him stop. I don’t want to get him in trouble, but I’d rather that than he kills an innocent person. I’m starting to breathe again and learning to live again, instead of just existing. I’m starting to consider other alternatives and being brave enough to think about big changes in my life. My father told me I’m strong, but not tough. I’m getting tough and also releasing myself from the guilt of having to be tough. Tough is not nasty. Tough is learning to respect yourself again and putting up hard boundaries when someone is trying to destroy you and your whole life. I have to remember that the brother I used to know, or the brother especially that I thought I knew, is not that person and if he were a stranger, I would stay out of his way and not in his company. Well if his only motive is to destroy me, then I need to have no guilt about releasing him from my life and moving on with my life, happy and without his negativism and his constant abuse of me. I’m learning at an old age to spread my wings and walk away and leave the past in the past, even if that means just walking away. I obviously have a long way to go try, but I’m Praying and taking it one day at a time. One hour at a time. And learning to take deep breaths again. I’ve woken up and realize the people around me will actually help me and want to and care about me. It’s been a hellish four years and I realize I never knew my brother, so I’m just letting go and moving on with my life. Easier said than done some moments. He is still bent on destroying me, but I’m trying to just keep moving forward. Life is too short. Thank you for reminding me. This has been evident to me very much especially lately. I’m trying to be brave and asking God for the Wisdom to know what are the right choices to make. There are several options and they require leaving the comfort zone and I move and do outside my comfort zone often and enlarge that zone constantly, but I’m trying to be brave and make some really big decisions that will effect my whole life going forward and again I’m Praying for the Wisdom to know what the right choices are. Thank you for reminding me of so many things, but what really resonated with me the most were life is too short, optimist vs idealist, I’m an optimist!, take deep breaths, and take each day at a time, but make constant improvement and be happy with what you accomplished today. Sorry for a long comment today. Was necessary. Thank you for your posts, for being Marc and Angel! And for your encouragement every day. Thank You and God Bless You.
Nancy Alt says
Excellent article with all the examples. I try to be an optimist, but there are certain things that I struggle with and found this article to be inspiring. Thanks!
Hey everyone, everything here resonated with me. For me positive thinking is the only thing that can carry us trough darkest moments of life. Because it associates ourselves with hope and faith and neglect worry and doubt. Optimism is the best of the best, Negativity has never served anyone in a good way.
Payal B says
Optimism is an art which you can’t learn in one day. It needs practice and lot of patience, but yes you will surely master it so never lose hopes:) if you failed once. Times comes where you find things aren’t working but be optimist in that situation. In the beginning you will find it hard but later optimism will your habit.
Katherine Swarts says
I’m writing an e-book on “100 Ways to Live as an Optimist in a Pessimistic World,” and your “what optimism IS and ISN’T” echoes what I said in some of my promotional material yesterday.
I truly was inspired by this! I can say that there have been numerous times when my thoughts and words were negative.. and that the outcomes were indeed negative. Learning to stop and think about this has made me realize that by thinking positively vs. negatively, I was so amazed at the outcome! I wanted to experience that content , that happiness, that “feel good feeling” again and again. I am still working on being less and less negative and more and more positive.. despite daily obstacles and situations. Today I read this again and it reminded me once more how good optimism is! Thank you Marc and Angel.
Kavleen Kaur says
Thanks for sharing this amazing post.
Thank you for this. I was diagnosed with kidney cancer last June. I had surgery to remove the tumor. Afterwards, I discovered that I have a hereditary genetic disorder that predisposes me to more kidney cancer. I have three lesions on my other kidney that are too small to classify. I feel SO grateful to be alive and that I didn’t need chemo, or radiation, but I have what I describe as a “dark passenger” in my life. My dark passenger is fear. Fear that it will come back, fear that it will eventually be the reason for my demise. I don’t dwell on this every day, but it’s present. It lurks in the background. I hate that and I want to change it. I recently looked at a picture of myself that was taken early last year, prior to my diagnosis. I barely recognized myself. In the last year, the joy has been sucked out of my life along with my health. I haven’t had a good recovery. I have severe fatigue and am in pain every day. I feel like I am trying SO hard to be okay, but I am not and I want to get better. I read a few of your posts and am hopeful that eventually I will get the sparkle back in my eyes and that my smile will not merely be plastered on, but will come from deep gratitude and joy again. Baby steps.
I find that optimism comes from gratitude. When life seems bleak, I force myself to figure out what to be grateful for. This puts things quickly into perspective. Just like these little girls who clearly understood that family is more important than a large home, I find these moments of gratitude help me to see what matters the most.
Mariam Emuseh says
Wow! I feel so lifted. From now on, its positive thoughts and words all the way for me. I will get rid of negative energy. I will no longer look down on my self. I am enough!