The holiday season is a reward for optimists — a gift for those who always live life as if it were filled with bright lights, beautiful music, happy children, exciting adventure and endless promise.

But optimists give more than they receive — all year long. They make life better just by being part of it. They enjoy people, places and things. Their enthusiasm is contagious, causing everyone around them to enjoy people, places and things.

I once worked for a man whose outlook was always positive. There was nothing phony about him. His love of life was sincere. His outlook was real. He truly expected every day to be better than the day before. He struggled with a severe disability, but it did not reduce his optimism. He believed without a doubt that the nationwide company he led made life better for millions. He could improve my whole day by simply saying "good morning" in the elevator.

His "good morning" was a pronouncement: "Today is a good day; enjoy it." His greeting was like a choir singing a chorus of affirmation. ...

Another positive-thinking friend grew up with poverty and prejudice. Still, he believed in the goodness of people — all people. He never judged anyone. When others disappointed him, he was more inclined to give them second and third chances than to push them away. It was a joy to be with him. His interaction with others defined friendship.

You have undoubtedly met similar individuals — the woman who brightens a room when she enters, not because of her appearance but because of her attitude, her smile or her friendliness ... the man who stops you on the street, asks about your family, remembers something you said two weeks ago ... the young couple who drop by for no apparent reason except to say "hello" and to share tales of their latest adventure.

The greatest gift anyone can give another is a positive attitude, a smile and genuine interest.

Some claim the only person you can change is yourself. Not true! You can and do change everyone with whom you come in contact. The question is whether you add to or subtract from the day's experience.

Like all human behavior, optimism is learned. No one is born with it or without it. You learn it. You practice it. You try it out until it becomes a habit. And then you can't imagine behaving any other way.

Learning to be positive is not difficult. By definition, every human being is part optimist. Only optimists start businesses, marry, have children, plant flowers, study, work, daydream, worship. Only optimists add meaning to family, city, state and nation. Only optimists spread the joy of this season throughout the year. Yes, negative experiences and negative responses are also part of living. The goal is to make certain learned optimism dominates the inevitable challenges of pessimism.

The push toward optimism is everywhere.

American traditions are optimistic. If you pay attention to American ideals, you can't help but have a positive attitude. Americans believe it is our responsibility to make the world a better place. We regard problems as opportunities, not impediments. We consider serving others a privilege, not an obligation. Some other cultures are inclined to accept as normal such things as ignorance, poverty, disease and tyranny. The difference between those two philosophies is profound.

It's easy to activate your positive, optimistic side. But it takes a little practice. Begin with a smile. You remember how from childhood. Don't be afraid to turn the smile into a laugh when appropriate. Say "good morning" or "good afternoon" instead of simply grunting "hello." Reach out to strangers. Sure, it's tough. But a compliment in the elevator or the checkout line can brighten someone's day. A compliment from a stranger somehow means more than the same words from an old friend. Take a real interest in what others are thinking, saying, doing. You can do it. Get outside yourself. It will make both parties feel good. Learn to listen. You have one mouth and two ears. That's about the right ratio for a friend ... or an optimist. You don't have to be smart, clever or witty to be friendly.

You just have to care a little. Anyone can do it. Holiday thanks to all you optimists out there.

G. Donald Gale is president of Words, Words, Words Inc. He is an optimist in training, hoping someday to earn a master's degree in positive thought, M.P.T. E-mail: [email protected]