Life, by definition, has its ups and downs. Some people prefer to dwell on the positive experiences and some hold onto the negative ones, anticipating the downside of every positive event or interaction. This perspective difference is what fundamentally separates optimists from pessimists.
As an optimist myself, I know it can be very difficult to maintain that positive outlook in a fairly negative environment as pessimists tend to shed light on harsh realities optimists often overlook or ignore. This squelches hope and anticipation the optimist thrives on. When an optimist is in such an environment for prolonged times, that rose-colored lens begins to tarnish and everything can begin to feel a bit hopeless. But there are a few basic ways to protect yourself from this decaying process.
First, be intentional with your piece of the physical environment. If it’s an apartment or house you are sharing with a negative roommate, be sure to decorate your space with positive images. Pictures of family and friends, memorabilia from fun vacations, inspirational quotes or pictures of people or places which inspire you will help to remind you of positive emotions. Choose color schemes which are upbeat and invite light and energy into the room. This also works for decorating your office space, only you may need to find professionally appropriate means of expressing your inner-optimist. For example, consider your background image on your computer if you have a desk job. If you are always on the go, perhaps keeping similar images on a phone or ipod you keep with you during the day may be a great way to take your inspiration with you. Choosing bolder, brighter outfits may also help to boost your optimism (even if it’s only a burst of color from a scarf, shoes or other accessory item).
Next, work on trying to identify when your positive outlook is being squelched by the negative thought patterns of those around you. Often the first sign of this overexposure to negativity is a drained feeling, followed by negative thought patterns of your own. As soon as you recognize these beginning signs, take the next opportunity to withdraw from people. It can be as simple as a trip to the bathroom or going for a walk to clear your head. The important thing is not where you withdraw to, but what you do while you withdraw. If you use this time to dwell on those negative emotions, they will continue to discourage you and the withdrawal will not have served its intended purpose. Instead, use this time to clear your head from distractions.
I often use a deep breathing technique which is promoted by many doctors to aid in pain relief process in which you inhale through your nose and exhale through your mouth. During this exercise, I imagine all of the negative baggage I have absorbed by those around me being exhaled and I am inhaling a breath of life. I consider all of the possibilities that life itself has to offer and reflect on things like faith, hope and love. I remember all of the reasons I have to be grateful and try to loosen my grip on the things that anger me or frustrate me. If practiced throughout the day, the times of withdrawal will become automatic with little extra effort and the need for physical withdrawal may be significantly reduced.
I find it helps me dissociate from negative attitudes of others when I understand why the person feels the way they do. Without prying, I try to legitimize in my own head the baggage that they are carrying around which may be contributing to their worldview. As I begin to piece together why they perceive it to be scary to trust in possibility as an intangible or hope for something that is equally likely not to come to fruition, I begin to understand that their attitude is a result of their past experiences which have disappointed them. As I am not responsible for their past, I feel freed up from the obligation to maintain a similar attitude as it is their burden to carry- not mine. Instead, I feel even more of an appreciation for the hope I understand and freedom of a positive attitude which stems from having dealt effectively with one’s own baggage. This process reminds me to be gentle with those who are negative as they are often in a more fragile state of being than those who are naturally positive people.
However, my optimistic friends, while these suggestions are beneficial to overcoming the typical stress of living in a world full of different people with different outlooks on life, it is not a fool-proof plan for a peaceful existence when you surround yourself with negative people. If you notice that all of your co-workers are negative and unwilling to change perspective, perhaps a job change would improve your attitude. Additionally, if your core group of friends contains mostly negative-minded people, perhaps editing your core friends and deepening friendships with others who inspire and encourage you would help you maintain that positive outlook even when you just have a bad day.