We all tend to ruminate on things that have gone wrong in our lives—a mistake we made at work, an evening that didn’t go as planned. We might even think about them so often that our lives seem filled with these mishaps and disappointments. Focusing on them too much, however, can cast a pall over our lives and even be associated with depressive thinking.
Looking on the bright side even when things go wrong is a key component of optimism, which research links to lower rates of depression, a better ability to cope with stress, and more relationship satisfaction, among other benefits. While finding the silver lining on a negative experience might (understandably) make you fear turning into a Pollyanna, many of us have a tendency to look on the bright side too rarely, not too often. This exercise is designed to help you achieve a healthier balance.
10 minutes daily for three weeks
1. Even though you missed the bus, you got some good exercise when you were running to catch it.
2. You’re fortunate to live in a city where there was another bus just 10 minutes later, or where buses run reliably at all.
3. Ten years from now, you likely won’t remember what happened this morning.
Sergeant, S., & Mongrain, M. (2014). An online optimism intervention reduces depression in pessimistic individuals. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 82(2), 263-274.
Participants who completed a set of optimism exercises (this exercise and the Goal Visualization task) daily for three weeks reported greater engagement in life and less dysfunctional thinking (e.g., believing that small failures make one a failure as a person) at the end of the study than they had at the start of it. Participants who had a tendency to be pessimistic especially benefited from the exercise and showed fewer depressive symptoms afterward. However, these effects seemed to wear off two months later, suggesting the need to repeat this practice periodically.
Looking on the bright side of life in general, or of a bad situation in particular, can increase happiness by boosting your sense of self-worth, motivating you to go after your goals, and enhancing your enjoyment of life. Regularly completing the silver linings exercise can help you get in the habit of recognizing positive aspects of your life and seeing the upside to challenging situations rather than fixating on the downsides. With repeated practice, you may find that it comes more naturally to look on the bright side, even when faced with difficulties in your life.
Myriam Mongrain, Ph.D., York University
Check out the Goal Visualization practice, which was developed and studied in tandem with this Silver Linings practice.