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Want to be an optimist? Pick up these positive habits

Story highlights

  • Engage in behaviors that reinforce positivity to create a sense of optimism
  • Have calming rituals in place for when things get tough
  • Fall back on positivity, but know how to embrace the negative as well

(CNN)Ever notice how some people just seemingly have a bright outlook on life -- even when everything isn't exactly on the sunny side?

You know those people: They're the friends who have spilled coffee on their white shirt and still manage to have a nonchalant smile on their face. They're the co-workers who make a big faux pas during a morning presentation and are still in a good mood at lunch. They look at the upside of life but they still live in reality.
    Here's the secret: They don't have some magical, unicorn-like powers that make them that way. They just engage in behaviors that reinforce their positive frame-of-mind without making it seem like their head is stuck in the clouds, says Melissa Blakeman, M.D., the regional medical director at Johns Hopkins University.
    Below are a few of the habits these realistically positive people practice on a daily basis.
    They have calming rituals.
    Life can throw us a series of stressful events, but positive people know how to cope with that anxiety in a healthy way. In fact, certain stress-relieving behaviors can actually promote positive emotions. Studies have shown that both exercise and meditation have been linked with happier moods.
    "Activities like exercise and meditation are definitely helpful in keeping a positive attitude but they also help you think more clearly," Blakeman said. "When those habits fall by the wayside, I personally can tell that I get more mired in the details and I have a harder time finding a path through life's daily frustrations."
    They tap into their positivity during challenging times...
    In an analysis on positive thinking published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, researchers suggest that cultivating an optimistic mindset can help you tackle life's challenges with resiliency -- and as a result, that could potentially lead to greater well-being. The study authors wrote:
    "Because positive emotions arise in response to diffuse opportunities, rather than narrowly-focused threats, positive emotions momentarily broaden people's attention and thinking, enabling them to draw on higher-level connections and a wider-than-usual range of percepts or ideas. In turn, these broadened outlooks often help people to discover and build consequential personal resources."
    ...But they also embrace the negative.
    No one is immune to the tough lots in life -- even optimists. The key is staying positive but keeping yourself grounded in reality, Blakeman said.
    "There are certainly plenty of challenges we all experience," she said. "Positive people approach them head on, with a 'this too shall pass' mentality. There's that idea that they've been through challenges before and they've made it through." That may mean tackling the day one task at a time or allowing yourself time to adjust to the "new normal" of a big change, she added.
    They don't bully themselves.
    Many of us are often our own worst critics, but positive individuals have learned to embrace themselves exactly as the are. Research shows self-acceptance could be vital to a happier life.
    One way to cultivate more compassion toward ourselves is through Loving-Kindness Meditation, or an exercise where you extend feelings of love and goodwill to yourself and to others. Research published in the journal Psychological Science found that those who regularly practiced the activity experienced more positive emotions. Not to mention, you'll also reap the other benefits of meditation. Check out these tips to help you get started.
    They rid themselves of toxic relationships.
    Who you are is partly a reflection of who you choose to surround yourself with -- that's why a good support system is crucial to an optimistic outlook, Blakeman explained. Studies show emotions like stress and happiness are contagious -- the more you're around it, the more likely you are to reflect that attitude.
    Armed with this knowledge, positive people build a strong social circle that helps reinforce their upbeat nature. "You'd be amazed by how much a good support group can influence a good attitude," Blakeman said.
    They celebrate the little victories.
    Positive people hold big accomplishments and small victories with the same weight, Blakeman said. There's power in acknowledging the little things.
    Research shows that thankfulness can lead to increased optimism, and it's a habit positive people make a point to practice. Gratitude for the little moments -- getting to the subway before it leaves the platform, getting a complimentary email from your boss at work -- provides more opportunities to be positive since you're concentrating on multiple facets of your day.
    They don't let their optimism hinder their goals.
    Despite all the, well, positive research on positivity, there are some downfalls if approached incorrectly -- specifically when it comes to pursuing your goals. Research suggests that overly positive viewpoints -- think fairytale mindset -- may actually impede you from reaching an accomplishment.
    Everyone experiences setbacks in the pursuit of success. Optimally positive people recognize those speed bumps and proceed to problem-solve their way around them in order to reach their goals, according to Blakeman. This sort of attitude is equal parts realistic and optimistic, which makes the pursuit less like a fantasy but still leads to a satisfying outcome.
    They plan ahead.
    One study conducted by psychology researcher Sophia Chou found that those who identified as realistic optimists believed they had more control over their relationships and circumstances. "Every time they face an issue or a challenge or a problem, they won't say 'I have no choice and this is the only thing I can do,'" Chou told LiveScience. They will be creative, they will have a plan A, plan B and plan C."
    However, it's important to realize when your current situation or planning becomes too overwhelming. Positive thinking is best cultivated with a relaxed mind, so take a break when you feel like you're getting "so bogged down with the details" that it's clouding your attitude, Blakeman said.