“It will never rain roses: when we want to have more roses, we must plant more roses.” – George Eliot
“How are you?”
How many times a day do you hear that question?
If you’re like me, your answer probably depends on the experiences you’ve had in the hours leading up to the interaction.
That’s because every experience leaves an imprint.
Psychologists explain that when we experience positive emotions such as joy, contentment, appreciation, and love, we are more likely to experience a high degree of well-being.
These positive emotions signal that we are thriving.
But that’s not all.
Positive emotions also produce well-being. In other words, if you learn how to choose positive emotions more often than you choose negative ones, you can actually learn to enhance and build the capacity for well-being.
In other words, deciding to be happy can make you happy.
But other than feeling better, what’s so great about positivity?
According to a 2011 Harvard Graduate School of Education study on mental attitude and aging, “Negative emotions harm the body in a way that, over time, adds up to “wear and tear” and, eventually, illnesses such as heart disease, stroke, and diabetes.”
Okay. Please understand that I’m not trying to scare you into a better frame of mind. We’re adults, here, and it’s neither simple or easy to change negative thinking.
But I do know from my own experience, and from studies such as these, that change is possible.
“Conversely,” says Laura Kubzansky, a Harvard associate professor, “it looks like there’s a benefit of positive mental health that goes well beyond the fact that you’re not depressed (and leads to increased longevity).”
While a longer, healthier existence is a wonderful thing, the good news doesn’t end there.
Could positive thinking actually create wealth?
According to Sherry Campbell, PhD., practicing positive thinking can help you become wealthier. Saving money, according to Campbell, releases chemicals (like Dopamine) that control mood and lift our spirits, which is itself addictive.1
Further evidence of the connection between mood and saving was born out by a 2013 longitudinal study by the British government of 30,000 people that found the happiest individuals were those people over the age of 70 who saved at least some money each and every month.
But what if you don’t feel positive?
Okay, I understand that for those of us who are prone to depression, a leap into positivity merely by saving money would be unthinkable. With that in mind, here are two specific ways that may help increase the sense that you are thriving:
- Express gratitude. Expressing gratitude can make your life happier and more satisfying. Volunteers in one experiment each wrote a letter to a person from their past that they felt they had not properly thanked who had changed their life for the better. A follow-up interview showed that these people were actually still happier and less depressed a full month after the experience.2
- Try some optimism. It turns out our brains are really good at focusing on negative events (this “defense mechanism” came from a time when, eons ago, we were continually at risk of being eaten by wild animals). In another scientific study, each day for an entire week, volunteers wrote down 3 things that had gone well. This simple device produced measurable results among its subjects who a full month later were happier and less depressed.2
“Keep your face to the sunshine and you cannot see the shadow.”
The two exercises above are tasks that just about any person could perform. But is it worth it? After almost 25 years as an advisor, I say -- absolutely! My clients run the gamut of personalities, but I would venture to guess that most of us would be well served to work to overcome our “survival” biology and make it a habit to practice positivity and gratitude.
What have you got to lose?
1 February 2015 issue of Entrepreneur magazine.
2 M. E. P. Seligman, T. A. Steen, N. Park, and C. Peterson, “Positive Psychology Progress: Empirical Validation of Interventions,” American Psychologist 60 (2005): 410– 21. Seligman, Martin E. P. (2011-04-05). Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being (p. 282). Atria Books. Kindle Edition.