The Gifted Nurse: Optimism

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We’ve reached the fourth and final part of The Gifted Nurse series and today we’re talking all about optimism!

Humans are born either more positive or more negative – it’s genetic. You can be born more positive but when you enter into a negative work environment, you can easily adopt the negative attitudes and behaviors from other people because of something in our brains called mirror neurons.

Basically, mirror neurons mimic what we see and hear most often. They say you are the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with: average type of house you live in, average income level, lifestyle, and average waistline! Some of you may be thinking that you need to get new friends!!

Mirror neurons are the exact reason why being optimistic is a gift for those who possess it.  In their book, Connected, authors Nicholas Christakis and James Fowler demonstrate the power that social networks have to influence interpersonal behaviors and relationships.  Numerous studies show that you do not have complete control over your behaviors, thereby conforming to the most common behaviors within your social network. The bottom line is that if you want to be happier – surround yourself with happy people. If you want to have more money – spend more time with people who have money. If you want to be in a loving relationship – spend more time with loving couples.

If you want to be more optimistic as a nurse – spend more time with optimistic nurses!

[easy-tweet tweet=”If you want to be more optimistic as a #nurse – spend more time with #optimistic nurses!”]


Optimism isn’t someone who lives in a state of constant joy, who walks into work skipping and smiling, or who never seems to be upset about anything. That would be weird. Optimism is a BELIEF that good things are possible. It’s being hopeful about the future and confident that no matter what the current situation is, things will get better. There is so much gloom and doom out there. People who are optimistic don’t let the media or the break room chronic complainers suck them into the vortex of hopelessness. Instead, they rise above and remember that MOST people are good people; that there is more goodness in the world than badness; that nursing is a wonderful profession filled with numerous opportunities to make a difference in the lives of millions of people despite the challenges.


Martin Seligman is known as the father of positive psychology. As the former president of the American Psychological Association, he spent the majority of his life studying human strengths and potential. As it turns out, what can unlock human potential is positivity.

Positive emotions, such as enthusiasm, excitement, and joy are more contagious than negative ones.  Positive emotions compound quickly and positive leaders were perceived as more effective and more likely to persuade their followers to do what they want them to do.  Positivity and optimism go hand in hand.

[easy-tweet tweet=”Positive emotions, such as #enthusiasm, #excitement, and #joy are more contagious than negative ones.”]

People who are optimistic and positive build strong relationships with others, are trusted, and typically perform better than their counterparts; pessimistic, negative people.

How optimism shows up in the nursing profession:

  • New nurses entering into the profession with bright eyes and eager minds
  • Experienced nurses who master the art of the electronic medical record even though they don’t own a computer!
  • Nurses who sit for a certification exam or who go back to school to get an advanced degree even though they are nervous
  • A nurse who has the worst shift of his career, goes home, sleeps, and then gets back up the next day to do it all over again

Optimism is the hope that we CAN and we WILL make this world a better place.


1. Create opportunities for laughter

There are 4 primary neurochemicals in the brain: endorphins, dopamine, serotonin, and oxytocin. They all contribute to our positive feelings of happiness, pride, joy, well being, achievement and fulfillment. Dopamine, in particular, gets released when we laugh! The benefits of laughter include improved immune function, stress relief, increased tolerance for pain, improved cardiovascular health, reduced anxiety, and improved mood.

Not only is laughter good for individuals but it also improves the workplace. According to Daniel Goldman, workplace jokes and laughter improve communication and trust. You and I both know you can get a lot more done with people you feel comfortable communicating with and whom you trust.

[easy-tweet tweet=”Make your co-workers #laugh today! Jokes and laughter improve #communication and #trust!”]

2. Get social

The more friends you have, the better you feel! Did you know that people who have less than 5 friends are more likely to die before those who have more than 5? A study of 20,000 people found that people who felt disconnected from others were more likely to get sick, miss work or even suffer a heart attack!!! The less socialization you have, the shorter the life expectancy.  Social relationships provide the best guarantee of heightened well-being and lowered stress. It’s like the antidote for depression and prescription for high performance and optimism.

3. Spend more time with optimistic people!

Just like we talked about with mirror neurons, you are influenced greatly by the people you spend time with. Take a look at your inner circle of friends and colleagues. Who are the most positive? Deliberately go out of your way to spend more time with them.  In my professional life, I have a list of colleagues whom I regularly spend time with who “fill my cup” and give me hope for the future. Same thing in my personal life. I have friends and family who always encourage me and make me believe that I can do and handle anything!! And of course, like you, I have those people in my life who suck the life right out of me!! I try to spend less time with them and more time with the cup fillers.  You need to do the same.

If you spend time with people who care about your development you will grow.

[easy-tweet tweet=”If you spend #time with people who care about your #development you WILL grow! “]

If you spend time with people who are hostile and negative, they will bring you down too.

The greatest gift you can give yourself, your colleagues, and the world, is the gift of optimism. Nurses who are optimistic BELIEVE that their work matters. They have clarity of purpose and believe they are making a difference even if it’s just to that one person (starfish poem).

Take care. Be kind. Stay connected.

Renee Thompson

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9 thoughts on “The Gifted Nurse: Optimism”

  1. Optimism and compassion, unfortunately, led to a job failure. Let me give a short explanation. When I enter a client’s room I always greet them with a smile and start a conversation about them, how they feel, and how I can help. In so doing it has been explained to me that this creates ire from other nurses and some jealousy.

    The most recent event took place at an ALF where my client could not hear. I brought her a whiteboard so she could read communication instead of not hearing it. She smiled. Other nurses were not so impressed by this, but, my client was. How do I get around my enthusiasm for nursing and caring for other people when colleagues can be so cynical?

    1. So sorry to hear this Kim! I’ve also been in situations where other nurses complained that I was “too nice” to my patients. Here is what has helped me…I decide how I want to conduct myself – independent of what anyone else says. In the end of my life, I want to leave this place feeling good about how I treated other people. I never want to have regrets that I could have been kind but chose not to because of other people.
      Stand tall. Be proud of your kindness and optimism. I would want someone like YOU taking care of MY MOM 🙂

  2. I agree with this on so many levels, Renee! I spent most of my nursing career surrounded by nurse friends that were negative about everything. I thought that’s just how I needed to be to be a nurse. That led me to be very unhappy with my career choice, always looking for something else. Fortunately that “something else” brought me to a nursing professional development team with a highly optimistic leader and supportive co-workers. I was able to learn that it is OK to do things differently and change things that aren’t working rather than just sitting and griping about them. I have spent the past 3 years reinvigorated about my career and excited about the possibilities ahead.

    Thank you for sharing your message to help drive the change we need in our nursing culture and profession!

    1. Hi Lisa. Thanks so much for taking the time to comment! I love that you recognize the importance of staying optimistic about being a nurse and that you are seeing the value of spending more time with optimistic people! Do you have any additional tips or recommendations to spread optimism in our profession?

      1. Renee,
        I think we need to hear more voices of optimistic nurses such as yourself to spread optimism in our profession.

        Nurses are storytellers by nature. Often I hear nurses sharing “war stories” of negative things that happened or nasty people they encountered. When we tell those stories we focus on hardening our shells against the negative and becoming less flexible to the changes needed to improve those situations.

        I believe that the more we can share positive stories of resilience, courage, vulnerability, and compassion, the more optimism will spread. I share stories I read in blogs (like yours) or that I hear from other nurses with my teammates to try to not only keep them thinking positively, but also to keep myself focused on positive change.


        1. Thanks so much Lisa. I know nurses deal with a lot of tragedies and death but we also witness miracles, life, courage, and perseverance from the patients we serve. Why spend our time in a vortex of negativity?? We, of all people know how precious life is!!! Do you have any strategies to maintain your optimism despite the challenges?

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