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Cultivating Optimism

By: Cindy Durkee

“I realized with gratitude; optimism is sustainable. And if you can find something to be grateful for, then you can find something to look forward to, and carry on.” -Michael J. Fox

When was the last time you acknowledged your own accomplishments? Often, we are quick to criticize ourselves, especially in the realm of parenting. We spend a great deal of time feeling guilty over allowing too much screen time, yelling when we intend not to react, or setting expectations that may be too high. I, too, have found myself caught in the trap of "should haves" and "what ifs." That is why I chose this topic; I needed it. It's a challenge to shift our focus towards what we and our children are doing right. All that is going well can sometimes elude us as our brains are naturally wired to focus on the things that go wrong.

While we can't eliminate negative thinking overnight, we have the power to retrain our brains to pay attention to the positives. By noticing the good, we create a ripple effect that enables our children to do the same, resulting in a win for everyone involved.

At the start of this year, I began a gratitude journey by creating a list. Each day, I jot down one or more positive aspects of my day, without repetitions. It could be as simple as relishing a new flavor of coffee, playing ping pong with one of my kids, belly laughing with a friend or hearing positive health news about a family member. My list has grown quite long already. On days when it's challenging to see the good, I open the note on my phone and revisit my list. It's just one of many methods I choose to train my brain to recognize what is going right.

Here are some valuable tips I've discovered to cultivate optimism:

  1. Slow down. Take the time to appreciate the everyday wonders that we often take for granted.

  2. Keep a gratitude journal. Recount the positives each day or as frequently as possible.

  3. Be kind to yourself. Our inner voice can be relentless and loud. Practice daily positive self-talk. Become aware of how you speak to yourself, whether it's in your thoughts or spoken words. Catch any negative thoughts and shift to positive affirmations instead.

  4. Choose your circle wisely. Reflect on how you feel after spending time with someone. Did it uplift you or bring you down? Invest your time in genuine friends and family who fill you up rather than drain you.

  5. Express gratitude to those who bring positivity into your life.

  6. Share your wins and your children’s wins with others. Verbalizing them not only boosts your own spirits but also sets a powerful example for our children and anyone who listens.

  7. Help others. Shifting our focus away from ourselves and extending a helping hand not only benefits those we assist but also brings us personal fulfillment.

  8. Engage in activities you love, nurturing your passions and finding joy in them.

  9. Embrace the present reality. This allows us to see the goodness in today and liberates us from being weighed down by past regrets or future uncertainties.

  10. Reflect on your past and celebrate the progress you've made. Recognize how far you've come and the resilience you've demonstrated.

Being optimistic requires conscious effort. It demands work but is undoubtedly worth it. There is always good unfolding in our lives and the lives of our children. It is our responsibility to observe it, embrace it, and cherish it. Over the past five years, I have had the honor of assisting in the care of my mother, who has Alzheimer's Disease. It has been a challenging journey, but amidst her fading memory and declining physical abilities, I find great joy in the moments of connection we share. Laughing together, looking at old photographs, reminiscing about the past, listening to her read to me, and holding her hand are priceless treasures. In her contentment and peace, she teaches me valuable lessons. I must purposefully stay in the present moment when I am with her, appreciating the good that surrounds us. Spending time with her has changed my perspective not only on her prognosis but also on optimism in my own life and parenting.

In pursuit of cultivating optimism, remember that gratitude can be a driving force that moves us forward as well said by Michael J. Fox. By acknowledging the good, we can experience change in our lives and change in those around us. When we intentionally choose to focus on the positive, we not only uplift ourselves but also become beacons of hope for our children and for the world they will inherit.


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