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Developing an optimistic outlook

2nd January 2020

Christmas is over, those two weeks flew by and now you’re back at work. It’s cold, it’s dark, it’s wet and February half-term seems like such a long way away. Depressing isn’t it? Well, that depends on how you look at it. You see, if you are an optimist, you will no doubt look back over your holidays with some fond memories and be looking forward to some things coming up. Optimism is the belief that the future will be desirable and enjoyable and studies show that optimistic people tend to be healthier, happier and suffer less from depression. The good news is we can all learn to look on the brighter side of life more, and below are three ways that may help you on this journey.

Be grateful

Although our Christmas break may have been riddled with some stressful times, these memories can cloud out the many small pleasant and satisfying moments we also enjoyed. It’s important to savour the good times, no matter how small, and express gratitude for them as this primes our minds to believe that the future will contain more positive experiences like these again. Gratitude switches our minds away from dwelling on what we lack, to savouring what we already have. Research from Prof. Robert Emmons shows that these gratitude practices can help:

  1. Reflect back over your Christmas break and write down five things that you were grateful for. It could be a tasty dinner, a thoughtful present, a catch-up with an old friend, or a snooze on the sofa.
  2. Send a thank-you note to someone. We’re used to getting cards at Christmas but we’re less likely to get them in January, so why not write to a few people to say how nice it was to see them over the festive period, or how much you loved the present they got you, or to thank the host who cooked for you.



Shakespeare once wrote, “There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” And he had a point. In psychological terms, changing our perspective on things is often called ‘reframing’. It’s when we consciously try to view an event from another perspective and, literally, see it from a different point of view. When we are able to exert greater flexibility with our thinking, it allows more room for the possibility that things may actually be OK (or at least better than we first thought!).

  1. Have a go at bringing to mind something you’re feeling negative about and view that negative from a more optimistic vantage point. Maybe the hen-pecking from a parent at Christmas that really wound you up can be viewed as them trying to show you that they care about you?
  2. Play Devil’s advocate each time you think negatively about something. Start small and begin to notice when your mind slips into a negative mode of thinking and try challenge those thoughts. Practise being open to the possibility that the opposite may be true.


Look forward

Ultimately, optimism is about the art of looking forward to things and believing that they will turn out well. So, it is important that we give ourselves ample opportunity to have things to look forward to. This is called ‘anticipatory savouring’ and it’s been shown to be good for boosting our wellbeing. Why not experiment with these ideas:

  1. Plan a trip away. OK, so money may be tight right now but that doesn’t mean you can’t start to at least plan a holiday or trip away for the future. Do some research, ask for recommendations and start to get excited about the prospect of going away.
  2. Hang out with your friends. Get some dates in the diary now to see your favourite people. Go see a movie, book a table at your favourite restaurant, plan to visit a museum or a bar. The activity is less important than the company, as good relationships are a key to a happy life.

Adrian Bethune is a primary teacher, founder of and the author of Wellbeing in the Primary Classroom. He tweets @AdrianBethune

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