Today scientists seem to agree that your overall health and longevity is based on three things. The first factor is unchangeable; Genetics. The second factor that affects your health is your environment; how you take care of yourself and what you put into your body. The third factor that seems to greatly predict current and future health is 100% up to you; your attitude.
If you see the world as a scary, unhealthy place full of jerks and your body as heading towards an inevitable breakdown, then guess what? The world will be a scary, unhealthy place full of jerks and your body will head towards an inevitable breakdown.
Recent studies have shown that one of the greatest predictor of health is whether the person thinks they are healthy or not. People who respond to the question, “How are you?” with: “I’m feeling great!” actually LIVE LONGER than those who respond: “Well my back hurts and I’m worried about my liver.”
Optimism is not about burying your head in the sand and not getting proper medical tests or seeing the doctor when you are ill because you are unrealistic about the future. It is about putting a smile on your heart and finding the silver lining – even when your back does hurt and you are worried about your liver.
A “glass half-full” attitude benefits your mental, physical and emotional health, not to mention your relationships. We all know a person who is “down in the mouth,” the guy who always has bad news, or the girl that just knows the entire world is against her and sending her too many emails, blocking her way with traffic and causing her milk to spill.
Our consumer society has made us into a culture of comparison shoppers, not just in the toothpaste aisle but also in every facet of life, which can lead to a certain level of unhappiness even when the best choice is made. With so many options to compare and contrast, picking out the positive and negative attributes of any situation becomes a necessary act just to function in society. The problems occur when people choose to focus on the negative – a trait carried over from humans’ early days on the Savannah, when failing to notice (a lion breathing down your neck) was much more dangerous than failing to notice the positive. We are hard-wired to give negative factors in the situation more of our attention, because our lives used to depend on it.
Today however those lions have become deadlines, in-laws or meetings, and focusing on their negative factors won’t save your life – in fact, science shows that focusing on the positive will help you live longer.
Optimism is associated with an internal locus of control – meaning that you feel like you have influence over factors in your daily life. For pessimists, life is just a river of fate and you are the moldy debris that is tossed to and fro.
Some people seem to be born wearing rose-colored glasses and a constant smile. If your natural constitution isn’t so peppy, here are a few tips on how to become more optimistic:
1. GET OVER YOURSELF. The world is not “out to get you.” Have you ever typed the acronym “FML?” anywhere? You need a dose of reality, pronto. Volunteer at a homeless shelter and you will understand quickly that you are more blessed than most people in this world. Most pessimists are so self-focused and narcissistic that they are unable to see the bigger picture – so physically put yourself in it! Travel to a third-world country and you will NEVER say “FML” again.
2. USE POSITIVE AFFIRMATIONS. Positive affirmations may have gotten a bad rap via Saturday Night Live’s “Stuart Smalley” character (“I’m good enough, I’m smart enough and doggone it, people like me!”), however talking kindly to yourself is one of the most powerful ways to boost your low-self esteem (which is at the bottom of most pessimist’s attitudes). Try Lady Gaga’s trick: every morning, speak compassionately to yourself for five minutes. Imagine yourself as a young child. What would you tell her?
3. SMILE. Even when you don’t feel like it. The simple act of moving your facial muscles into a smile formation can actually cause your brain to register happiness. Try it!
4. LISTEN TO HAPPY MUSIC. Music is an incredible tool for changing your mood. If music is not a large part of your daily life – you are missing out on one of the greatest medicines in existence. Find music that moves a smile onto your face, and press play. Bonus points for dancing – it’s impossible to be a pessimistic grump when you are dancing with your hands in the air.
5. BRING JOY INTO YOUR LIFE. Do you laugh throughout the day? Life is about much more than staving off disease and trying not to get stressed out in rush-hour traffic. When was the last time you played? Many adults have bought into the notion that playtime is for kids and kids only, however they are missing out on what life is all about. What makes you laugh and lose track of time? Playing with puppies? Finger-painting? Riding a rollercoaster? Write down a “Playlist” of activities that make you laugh, and resolve to engage in them as often as possible. Soon, you will be waking up with a smile on your face and a more optimistic attitude in your heart.