In a world where an estimated 300 million people suffer from depression, with reported suicide rates both in the UK and the USA at a high, it seems like we could all use a healthy dose of optimism. Whether or not we’re willing to adopt this mindset is another question, though.
As a culture, we tend to think of cynicism as an intellectually superior outlook on life, dismissing positive thinkers as, at best, naïve and immature, and at worst, dangerously blind to the facts of the world around them. There is, however, a wealth of scientific research and historical evidence that challenges this assumption, and suggests that optimism could be the key to bringing about positive change both on a global scale and in our own lives.
Studies show that optimism can increase our lifespan by nearly eight years, as well as helping us cope better with stress and recover faster from illness and injury. Other notable benefits include higher levels of productivity and success at work.
Internationally-renowned entrepreneur and author Marie Forleo has made optimism the corner stone of her approach to life and business. Her definition of optimism is “the ability to see things as they are, imagine them better, then take action to bring that vision to life.”
She credits this outlook with her success as a self-made millionaire, saying it helped her work her way out of debt and transform her career from serving drinks, cleaning toilets, and waiting tables to building a global brand with an award-winning YouTube show and glowing praise from the likes of Oprah Winfrey.
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Forleo’s new book, Everything is Figureoutable, explores her unique brand of highly practical optimism. Describing the “figureoutable” philosophy as a discipline and way of thinking “that helps you solve problems and achieve what you most want”, she shares step-by-step instructions for how to face any challenge in a constructive way, along with a wealth of examples of people who have used optimism to achieve their goals and change the world. Here, we share the key takeaways of our interview and use optimism as a powerful tool to improve your life.
Optimism doesn’t mean not facing the hard facts of life
"People sneer at optimism simply because they misunderstand it. Optimism takes courage, creativity, and hard work. Frankly, it’s easier to be a cynic. But growth only comes when you take full responsibility for your own experience and do your part to make it a little better every day.
"Optimism doesn’t mean we don’t face the hard facts of life. It’s not superficial cheeriness, nor is it about being a Pollyanna or sugar-coating reality. It’s about confronting the pain, sadness, and grief straight on and then asking yourself, 'What’s next?'”
Look to Tererai Trent to understand the power of optimism
"Tererai Trent has one of the most incredible stories. She was born in rural Zimbabwe and, at age 11, was married off for the price of a cow to a man who would beat her regularly. Before she was 18, she was already a mother of four. Her greatest desire was to get an education. Using her brother’s borrowed schoolbooks, Tererai taught herself to read and write, [and] hoped to one day study abroad, earn a BA, a master’s degree, and then a doctorate.
"For a poor girl from rural Zimbabwe, those were pretty far-reaching goals—some might say impossible. But after nearly two decades of extraordinary struggle and determination, she achieved every one of her dreams and more.
"While her journey wasn’t easy or fast, Dr. Trent proves the possibilities that await us when we focus on the change we hope to make rather than reasons why we can’t (or won’t) do whatever it takes to make our goals a reality. She proves that the 'everything is figureoutable' philosophy isn’t just for the privileged few."
An optimistic mindset will make you more confident
"You’ll feel more capable and confident, especially in the midst of constantly changing circumstances. You’ll become a stronger leader. A more creative collaborator. When you cultivate an optimistic mindset, you become better at solving problems, learning new skills, finding ways to help and contribute to others."
You can learn how to be optimistic
"Research has proven that our brains are adaptable; the brain is like a muscle in that it changes and gets stronger with use. Studies in neuroscience show that we can train our brain to think in new ways, which means that yes, anyone can become an optimist."
Optimism is exactly what’s needed to make the world better
"Individually and collectively, we’re confronted by events that can no longer be ignored. Political, social, environmental, and economic forces are upending life as we know it [and causing] pain across every corner of our planet.
"There can be no significant change in the world unless we first have the courage to change ourselves. In order to change ourselves, we must first believe we can—and that’s exactly what the 'figureoutable' philosophy is all about."
Everything is Figureoutable by Marie Forleo is published by Penguin and out on 12 September, 2019.
From Harper's Bazaar UK