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If you think you can, you can ... have better health, successful relationships, and a better future.

You might think of optimists as unrealistic, people who ignore the world's blemishes. But positive thinkers do not blind themselves to reality, say psychologists. They see the world just as clearly as pessimists do. The difference is that, to them, a setback is simply a condition to overcome, not a defeat.

Studies suggest that only about 25 percent of the tendency toward optimism is carried in the genes, the rest is developed by the individual.

In his book, Learned Optimism (Pocket Books) Dr. Martin Seligman says the way to become an optimist is to think like one. When something goes wrong, an optimist blames it on external, temporary forces. A pessimist may blame trouble on personal character or faults. Because optimists expect the best outcome, they're more motivated to bring it about. Here are a few ways to begin your path to increased optimism.

Be friendly. Greet co-workers and others with a smile and a few cheery words. Being cheerful and friendly leads to more positive interactions and positive feelings.

Give yourself a break. If you greet someone, and your friendliness isn't returned, think, "He's having a bad day," rather than, "He doesn't like me." Never blame yourself for other people's conditions.

Be a problem solver. If a plan doesn't work out, make changes in the plan. Don't give up.

Distract yourself. When your boss is less than kind, or you embarrass yourself in a social situation, do something you enjoy to get your mind off of the situation. An enjoyable activity breaks the trend toward negativity. Go out to lunch, play golf, or work in your yard. Better solutions will come.

Laugh. It's good for the body and soul. Laughter helps people get through hard times that might undo them without a sense of humor.

Practice looking on the bright side even if you don't really feel optimistic. Fake it if you must. Each time you count on success and achieve it, your confidence will build.

Remember the words of Dr. Norman Vincent Peale: "Have faith in yourself! Have faith in your abilities! Without a humble but reasonable confidence in your own powers, you cannot be happy."



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