From study after study noting the physical and mental health benefits of optimism, such as lower rates of depression, stress, greater resistance to the common cold and reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, we’re all at least generally aware that we should try to keep a positive outlook on life. However, inspirational Pinterest women wearing yoga pants in a meadow with their motivational quotes notwithstanding, it can be immensely hard to keep that positive attitude going in the midst of midterms and job interviews. With the help of the ray of sunshine Leslie Knope herself, we’ve complied a list of realistic habits to keep you optimistic throughout the semester and beyond.
1. Make Time for Fun
I know, I know, we’re BC students and have literally three midterms tomorrow and an Appa meeting and office hours and a group project to get to, but believe me when I tell you (gasp) that you’re not actually as busy as you think you are. Wait until 10-15 years from now when you might have kids and work and soccer practice to manage, and then you can complain about being busy. However, taking 20 minutes to an hour out of studying probably will not cause your ultimate failure and ruin, but may actually give you the peace of mind to calm that awful test anxiety. Watch your favorite TV show, Youtube your favorite comedian, eat dinner with your friends without phones or homework and hear about their day, eat your favorite food, go to Senior Night, play a game of wiffleball or Cards Against Humanity, do something new you’ve never tried before — the list goes on. Part two is that if you’re going to make time to do something fun instead of work, stop with the guilt and the “oh my gosh I should be studying” and actually enjoy it. Doing what you love, even if it’s not productive, will do wonders for your peace of mind and optimism.
2. Watch Your Environment
There’s wisdom in the old phrase, “Misery loves company.” Take a look around and think about what situations you place yourself in, and if your friends are having a pity party of complaining or are actually supporting each other and you. Studies have shown that negativity is contagious, so be careful with the atmosphere that you choose to take part in. Second, get organized. Channel your inner Leslie Knope and make some colored-coded binders. Whether you notice it or not, a cluttered atmosphere creates a stressful environment, and those 10 minutes spent looking for your BC ID before a big test could make all the difference.
3. Let Yourself Off the Hook
Don’t beat yourself up. We all make mistakes and do really, really badly on tests every so often, but don’t let it reflect on your self-worth. Learn from the experience, move on and don’t sweat the small stuff.
4. Create Short-Term Goals
In the midst of interview after interview and trying to figure out what you want to do with your life long-term, it can often seem like we’ve achieved nothing. Create short-term, achievable goals, like running two miles today, doing your laundry or starting your paper a week before it’s due, and actually do them, then celebrate your success when you do achieve them.
5. Start a Gratitude Journal
Yes, it may seem cheesy at first, but it actually works. Write down three to five things you’re thankful for every day. It takes five minutes, but the key is NO REPEATS. Soon enough you’ll be appreciating the little things in life, like when your pants are warm out of the dryer or when you get to walk to class with your roommate.
Make it fun. Do a spin class, kick-boxing or whatever gets your blood pumping and those endorphins running. If the Plex culture fosters a negative mindset (I didn't set foot in it for three years), run around the Res or do Pilates with your TV. Put on Whitney Houston and dance it out, just get moving.
7. Make Someone Else Laugh
Put some good back into the universe. Send your roommates Vines of people falling down or tell dumb knock-knock jokes. Even if you’re down in the dumps, making someone else happy will come back to you, and everyone loves to laugh.
8. Slow Down
Meditate, do yoga, go into nature, go into church, watch this relaxing video, lie on the floor of your room and listen to this song. This isn’t Eat, Pray, Love, but stop the circling wheel of work hard play hard for a second and appreciate the moment. Soak it up, because college is flying by and you don’t have time for the negativity.
9. Avoid Social Media
Facebook is fabulous for backstalking old pictures of your friends and coordinating pregrames, but spending unnecessary amounts of time on social media sites has been proven to create a more negative self-image and pessimistic attitude as shown in this study. Taking a break from the endless newsfeeds will decrease negative thoughts and probably even give you more time for actually living your life.
10. Gauge Your Attitude
Written about as “self-talk” (read: thoughts) are “the endless stream of unspoken thoughts that run through your head,” according to the Mayo Clinic. Pay attention to how you think about unfortunate situations. Are you constantly complaining and wallowing about how awful it is, or are you trying to find the silver lining? Is the long line in Lower or outside MAs the worst thing that’s ever happened to you, or is it an opportunity to stand and chat with your friends—something that you’d probably be doing anyway if you weren’t in line. Remember what’s in your control and what’s out of your hands and act and think accordingly. Remember the big picture — how much is this inconvenience going to really affect you long term? — and let minor annoyances go.
11. Stay Realistic
We can’t all be Kimmy Schmidt or Spongebob 100% of the time. If you’re not naturally perky, don’t fake it. Some things in life legitimately suck, and that’s okay. Tell your roommate, tell your mom, FaceTime your dog. Sometime things are so bad that you can laugh at how absurdly awful your luck is, and sometimes you just gotta wait it out. But don’t wallow in self-pity — things will eventually get better.
Now get on with yo' fine self.