Barack Obama is no stranger to bleak circumstances — maintaining a positive attitude despite them helps him stay in high spirits.
Obama, 61, discussed the top tactic he uses to remain level-headed in an interview with comedian Hasan Minhaj published on Wednesday.
Minhaj asked the former president, who he dubbed the “hope and change guy,” if he ever gets depressed amid current conditions like climate change, anti-abortion laws and anti-LGBTQ+ legislation.
“I do try to maintain some perspective,” Obama responded. “Ask your parents or your grandparents whether this is the worst that they’ve seen. I’m pretty sure that between World War I, World War II, the Great Depression … we can go through the list of moments that are significantly worse than this.”
Instead of dwelling on upsetting events, he subscribes to the “glass half full” mindset that things could always be worse, helping him foster a sense of gratitude.
Obama added that many of us, himself included, grew up during a time where positive events seemed to outweigh the negative ones, so it may be hard to be optimistic when it’s the other way around.
“I grew up in this anomalous stretch of time in which, even though bad things were happening, for the most part, the trajectory of humanity was [that] things were getting better,” he said. “We were becoming less racist and less sexist and less homophobic … there was this enormous sense that many of the ills of humanity were behind us.”
Over time, you can train yourself to be more optimistic by looking at negative situations in a positive light, according to health and wellness site Verywell Mind.
“When you’re thinking negatively, take a moment to assess how realistic your thoughts truly are,” psychotherapist Amy Morin wrote on their website. “Reframing your overly negative thoughts into more realistic statements can help you maintain a healthy dose of optimism.”
Obama gave his daughter Malia’s friends similar advice, he says, after she asked how to make her friends feel more hopeful about stopping climate change.
“What I said to her is, ‘Look, we may not be able to cap temperature rise to 2 degrees centigrade. But here’s the thing, if we work really hard, we may be able to cap it at 2.5 instead of 3,'” he explained. “That extra centigrade, that might mean the difference between whether Bangladesh is underwater.”
Mindset shifts like this are what “matters,” he continued. “It can sustain your spirit.”
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