Be More Optimistic! You’ll be Healthier, Too

Have you ever had an experience that goes something like this: Something difficult, painful, or unwanted arrives in your life. You complain, worry or even cry about it for days/weeks/months.  Then, all of a sudden, the sun comes out from behind the clouds and you realize that this “terrible situation” has actually brought a valuable gift into your life This gift might be: a priceless lesson learned; a deepening of your faith (that has certainly been my experience; suffering is an unavoidable experience in the Christian life, and deeper faith, reliance on God, and character are the gifts that emerge); a skill you can now teach others; a beautiful, compassionate connection with another person or group; or, perhaps this event in your life set up circumstances that created surprising positive circumstances in your life, once the clouds lifted.

How silly, or regretful, did you feel, after, after having spent so much time and energy being upset about this supposedly “unwelcome” event?

I’ve had that experience, so many times.  As an example, if I could go back in time and have the option of reliving my 20’s without having the experience of depression, I would still choose to relive the depression (as much as I begged God to be free of it, at the time).  Now I know that if I hadn’t had that experience, I’d probably still be an Emergency Medicine doctor (don’t get me started on that).

And as for flamenco, one of the reasons I started studying it was because I’d hurt my back and could no longer do salsa dancing with all its dips and spins and other extreme moves.  I can’t imagine my life without flamenco, now, and salsa feels like a small thing of the distant past. So interesting.

An optimistic phrase I learned while living in Mexico, is this: por algo pasan las cosas.  Everything happens for a reason. I really, really believe that.  And I believe that God knows the real reason for everything. In some cases we may never even find out. Train yourself to look for the good in the bad.  Surprise! You’ll usually find it.

I definitely had to learn to be an optimist.  So did psychologist Dr. Martin Seligman, who’s probably the all-time worldwide authority on optimism. In an interview on eqtoday.com (click here for link), Dr. Seligman actually said: “I’m a born pessimist”.  When asked to choose his most important piece of research, something that he feels absolutely everyone should know about, he said this:

“If you are a pessimist in the sense that when bad things happen, you think they are going to last forever and undermine everything you do, then you are about eight times as likely to get depressed, you are less likely to succeed at work, your personal relationships are more likely to break up, and you are likely to have a shorter and more illness-filled life.  That’s the main discovery that I associate with my lifetime.”

Yikes! So, if you’re one of those people that will always 1) remind yourself (and others) of what’s gone wrong in the past; 2) focus on what’s going wrong right now (as proof of the doomed past repeating itself); and 3) predict all the things that could go wrong in the future (so you don’t get hurt or do anything risky), you might want to think seriously about kicking these 3 habits, even if it’s just to enjoy the life and health benefits of anticipating positive outcomes.

Seligman agrees with this.  He says that the best way to start shifting your habitual viewpoint from pessimism to optimism is to start to discover the costs of being a pessimist, such as those he listed above.

“As a pessimist, it’s always wet weather in the soul, they don’t do as well at work, and they get colds that will last all winter.  They find themselves failing in crucial situations and their relationships go sour very easily.  So when people have those kinds of hurts, if they can find that there is something useful in positive psychology, that’s where people start.”

Are you tired of those hurts, of feeling bad about life, tired of focusing on what went wrong/is going wrong/will go wrong?

Here’s some great news about optimists:

1) You’ll be more likely to be hired

Some employers deliberately look for markers of optimism on psychological assessment tests of potential new employees, and only hire optimistic people

2) You’re more likely to be successful at your job or career
Optimists also tend to be able to stay with challenging jobs and are less likely to give up.

3) You’re more likely to keep trying until you succeed

According to Seligman, when an optimist gets a low grade in school, or does poorly in an athletic event, they are more likely to “rise to the occasion” and do better the next time around.  Pessimists, on the other hand, let the negative experience drag them down, and do worse the next time.  Which would you rather be?

4) You’re more likely to stay healthy and feel better throughout life

One study in Harvard students found that later in life, the optimists were far healthier than those that were pessimists.  Optimists also experience less stress than pessimists.  And, people who consciously adopt optimistic ways of thinking are less likely to develop depression or anxiety.

Life is just so much better, lived optimistically.  If you have to live through a tough experience, why not look for the good in it?

So get out there, have a great day, and go make delicious, refreshing lemonade out of all those lemons that life throws you!

 

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