How do you stay optimistic when life seems to be a catastrophe?

16 January
12 March

We can distinguish two types of catastrophes: the real one such as war, becoming a refugee, a severe illness of a loved person, etc. and a superficial catastrophe which we tend to create for ourselves without any decent reason for that, such as meeting multiple deadlines in a rush because of procrastination earlier, or breaking up with a boyfriend or girlfriend who you were dating for a few years and so on.

To target ‘catastrophe’, it is important to understand where does this feeling come from. There are two main sources of them: cognitive biases, which include attentional bias (noticing only very limited amount of information and mostly the one which is fresh in our memory), memory bias (remembering something we are frequently in touch with or exposed to) and interpretational biases (interpreting things from own perspective which is not necessarily objective, e.g thinking of event, such as taking a flight, as threatening and dangerous); and mass media which is playing on our cognitive limitations. Media mostly portrays the negative events of the world avoiding good and uplifting news, This is done for a reason – to catch our attention easier. As a result, if mass media is the main source of information, it leads to a skewed perception of the world. This guardian article explains the effect of media on our perception of the world very neatly, and I would definitely recommend you to read it. Besides biasing our views of the world, media also alters our perception of our own problems, in other words after hearing a lot of negative news, our own problems can seem to us more grandiose, even if they are not (Davey & Mitten, 2016).

Nevertheless, the historical practice shows that some people manage to stay strong and positive even if they had to go through really tough situations. While others become discouraged even after small failures. So how do you stay positive and optimistic when life is tough? The answer to this question lies in a research of positive psychologists.

The suggestion, on how to achieve this optimistic state is not a rocket science, and you might have heard them already, however, this is something that has been tested and retested in research. They sound to be simple, yet, maybe not so easy to implement.

1. Firstly, having a purpose in life, helps you going through difficult times or situation. Having a clear understanding why you are doing what you are doing or suffering for, gives you strength. As Viktor Frankl, a famous positive psychologist who was sent to concentration camps during the World War II, describes in his books, the thing that kept him strong during the hardest time in the camps was love to his wife, and his infinite desire to see her. This purpose helped him to survive.

2. Secondly, looking for benefits. Even when everything seems to be pretty drastic, it still worth searching for the goods, there is always something. It can be extremely hard and you may fail but you have learnt something, you gained experience, you may have started a completely new life. Any situation still has something good and positive in it, but you need to be open to see and accept it.

3. And last but not least, staying present in the moment and meditate. The research has shown that being present in the moment makes you happier, even if you are doing routine tasks and, I guess, you can imagine how great is the value of the awareness and presence in truly precious moments. Unfortunately, all the technologies which surround us are both used and abused. You probably can quite easily remember the moment from a meet up with friends and how often you or your friends were checking the phone, such behaviour distorts attention and makes us less attentive to friends or any other activity you are doing, moreover, a constant urge to check the phone is one of the sources of anxieties, so it is worth knowing and being conscious about own behaviours. Meditation is one of the routes to achieve awareness of the present moment. It helps the mind to be clearer and more focused, as well as it makes it more flexible (e.g Hinton and colleagues, 2013). Both behavioural and brain imaging studies show that meditation has a positive effect on a brain and subsequent behaviours in people who are living an urban busy lifestyle and on those who are going through difficult times (e.g. Keller and colleagues, 2006).

If you are looking for some advice on how to change your life to become a happier person, this blog is a good starting point. It gives practical suggestions which are supported by scientific research but all written simply and easy to understand and implement.

Other than that, it is important to remember, that majority of our ‘catastrophes’ are not catastrophes but rather some challenges which can make us stronger once we overcome them. What seems to us as a catastrophe today, may not even be remembered in a year. In fact, things are better than we think and when they are not, it might be a trigger to take action.

17 June

Catastrophic or in a depressive state? Life is full of heartache and hardships. Life is full of change and lessons learned, often the hard way. We lose people we love, we lose things we value. All of these things are guaranteed to happen. It's how we perceive them that makes or breaks us. Even in the darkest, lonely moments, there is beauty. It can be an uphill battle to force yourself to see them but they are there. Everyone has their own ideas of what that beauty can be. If the dark is a frightening place for you? Look up and see the stars. They are amazing, soon that sense of awe inspires hope. Hope is the key to optimistic views. I may be depressed but I have learned to hold on to that one small thing that brings hope. It may not be okay at this moment but the next breath will be better and so on from there.

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