Mental Health · Recovery

“Everything Is Tough and I Don’t Know How to Stay Positive:” Practical Steps Forward

A while back on my Tumblr, I was asked one of the toughest and most important questions I’ve ever had to answer: How can I become an optimist if everything in my life is going wrong? I feel like a lot of people in my life and nation are struggling right now, so it’s time to think about this once again.

Optimism is hard-fought. Hope is not naive. It’s something that must be worked toward and continually cultivated on a daily or weekly basis. But I cannot tell you how important it is to keep doing this. I want to share with you some quotes that I believe encapsulate the nuances of optimism, and some encouragement and basic tips on how to keep fighting the good fight.

Quotes about what hard-fought optimism is: 

Optimism is a strategy for making a better future. Because unless you believe that the future can be better, you are unlikely to step up and take responsibility for making it so.

– Noam Chomsky

People are illogical, unreasonable, and self-centered. Love them anyway. If you do good, people will accuse you of selfish ulterior motives. Do good anyway. If you are successful, you will win false friends and true enemies. Succeed anyway. The good you do today will be forgotten tomorrow. Do good anyway. Honesty and frankness make you vulnerable. Be honest and frank anyway. The biggest men and women with the biggest ideas can be shot down by the smallest men and women with the smallest minds. Think big anyway. People favor underdogs but follow only top dogs. Fight for a few underdogs anyway. What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight. Build anyway. People really need help but may attack you if you do help them. Help people anyway. Give the world the best you have and you’ll get kicked in the teeth. Give the world the best you have anyway.

– Kent M. Keith

The only way to find true happiness is to risk being completely cut open.

– Chuck Palahniuk

We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.

– Oscar Wilde

Do not think of today’s failures, but of the success that may come tomorrow. You have set yourselves a difficult task, but you will succeed if you persevere; and you will find a joy in overcoming obstacles. Remember, no effort that we make to attain something beautiful is ever lost.

– Helen Keller

Finish every day and be done with it. You have done what you could. Some blunders and absurdities, no doubt crept in. Forget them as soon as you can, tomorrow is a new day; begin it well and serenely, with too high a spirit to be cumbered with your old nonsense. This new day is too dear, with its hopes and invitations, to waste a moment on the yesterdays.

– Ralph Waldo Emerson

A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.

– Winston S. Churchill

You can cut all the flowers but you cannot keep Spring from coming.

– Pablo Neruda

The road that is built in hope is more pleasant to the traveler than the road built in despair, even though they both lead to the same destination.

– Marion Zimmer Bradley



It is crucial, in learning to be an optimist, to be realistic, but not too much. I know that sounds like one of those unattainable balances (sometimes I think of Goldilocks and the 3 Bears’ oatmeal situation – too hot, not hot enough, just right)! But my therapist has told me that people with depression and anxiety tend to be the most realistic of anybody, so it’s actually psychologically healthy to be a little more optimistic than your reality would suggest you should be. It’s good for you to look at things with slightly rose-colored glasses; however, it is also important to be aware of the situation of what surrounds you – for better or for worse – and to be adaptive and find the best reality-based solutions to the problems of daily living, even as you hope.

The best part of being an optimist is that you have increased resilience, which means that you have a psychological springiness of being able to bounce back from tough situations. Hard things happen, and the best thing you can do is to decide that the hard thing won’t be the end of you. Thus far, you have survived 100% of your worst days, moments that you thought would end your hope and sense of self. That’s an extremely impressive statistic, my friend.

Since everything is going wrong in your life right now, change one thing or add one new activity to your life, and decide to do that thing super well. Put your heart into it and let your efforts pay off. Even if you’re in unchanging situations, adding something new might give you a renewed sense of spirit.


  1. Look up positive psychology and try to practice the principles of it. They’re basic and wonderful. For example, it’s through positive psychology research that we’ve discovered 3 key elements of all happy people’s lives: relatedness (they feel like they belong and have a community); competence (they feel like they’re good at something); and autonomy (they feel like they have the freedom to make their own decisions and lead the life that will make them the most content).
  2. Write a gratitude journal. That’s one of the best findings we’ve gotten from positive psychology so far – that grateful people are happy, not the opposite! Spend 5 minutes at the end of each day writing down 3-5 things for which you were grateful that day. If you want to see mine, I wrote one each night for a year.
  3. There’s a wonderful self-care worksheet with reminders about the basic physical and emotional concepts that we can forget that I have on my computer desktop for when I’m wondering if there’s anything that I can do to boost my mood quickly.
  4. I have whole pages of resources for people who are beginning their self-care journeypeople who are in recovery and people who are in need of encouragement. Check them out.


Keep going, my friend. You are beloved and you are not in this alone.


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