“A pessimist sees the glass as half empty. An optimist sees the glass as half full. An engineer sees the glass as twice as big as it needs to be.” This old joke also begs a simple question: Who are you?
You’ve probably heard that greater happiness translates to better health, improved job performance, more satisfying personal relationships, and reduced stress. And it’s true—being happy simply makes everything in life a little better. “Finding more joy really can help you reach your full potential,” says Martin Seligman, a noted expert in the field of well-being and the director of the Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania.
We know being an optimist isn’t always easy, but it certainly beats the alternative. Follow these six simple rules and you may just find your life getting better.
Take out the trash.
Rehashing the past prevents you from claiming a brighter future, says Seligman. Let it go and lighten up.
Find the silver lining.
Your boss handed you a new project, the client lunch meeting ran 90 minutes longer than expected, and you got a flat tire on the drive home. When you feel yourself getting bogged down by the bad parts of your day, take a moment to pause and find a glimmer of good (“Hey, I can still change a tire”) and focus on the positive side of the situation.
Stay on top of little things (like the weekly assortment of mail) to prevent them from becoming big things that make life difficult (like that heaping pile of papers that taunts you come tax time). Carve out a few minutes each week to tackle your clutter. That doesn’t mean just making piles or relocating stuff. Create a storage system that works for you, and if an item doesn’t have a home—toss it. Also, anticipate that the pessimist-formerly-known-as-you can resurface. When he does, Seligman says to “take a deep breath, fight the urge to criticize, and focus on something good.”
Megan Patruno is the assistant athletic director at Muhlenberg College in Allentown, Pennsylvania, a wife, and the mother of three active children. Her secret to running a bustling, happy home and hectic professional workload? “I try to be grateful for what I have been given,” she says. “I try to have faith that everything will be alright. I try to look at things from other perspectives besides my own. I also think I have a pretty good sense of humor!”
If you find yourself stuck on the same negative thought, force your attention elsewhere—like on the Spin class you’ll be taking later or a charity event you want to volunteer for. The key is to escape with something that requires your full focus so those negative thoughts can’t push their way into your head.
Pay it forward.
Being an optimist doesn’t mean you meekly accept whatever comes your way. It means that you exude the strength and resilience to not let anything keep you down, says Seligman. Try to use your positive energy to overcome challenges, no matter what is thrown at you.
Oh, and tell that engineer that the glass is perfectly sized, thank you and you will work with her to keep it filled.