Modern culture doesn’t invite optimism. Advertisements hawk victimization: Your life isn’t good because you’re missing something. The news often reminds us about everything that is going wrong. It’s hard to stay an optimist, to stay effective, if you’re allowing negative influences to affect you.
“Optimism is an essential condition for doing something difficult,” says Jeff Bezos, the founder and CEO of Amazon.com. By acting, you enter into relationship with the reality around you. That’s why optimists are healthier and happier—a result proven by myriad studies. People with an optimistic attitude get sick less often. When they are sick, they heal faster. They feel more connected to their lives, and that makes them happier. Martin Seligman, founder of the positive psychology movement, came to this conclusion in several studies. Optimists feel they have answers to the circumstances in which they find themselves. That simple realization strengthens their immune systems. Pessimists undermine their immune systems with feelings of despair and powerlessness.
But Seligman has shown that you can learn to be an optimist. In his book, Seligman writes that he can turn someone who has had 30 years of practice thinking pessimistically into an optimist. His lesson plan — a combination of creative brainstorming techniques and exercises in assertiveness, relaxation and decision-making — has been used with freshmen at the University of Pennsylvania, where Seligman teaches psychology, and the results are clear: better health, fewer visits to the doctor, better grades, fewer suicides, better eating habits, more exercise, better self-care and so on.
Optimists naturally embrace two elements more readily than pessimists. Optimists are grateful, and they have a sense of humor. There is a correlation between laughter and the levels of certain hormones in the body that regulate our perception of pain.
There will always be problems. What you can change is the way you approach those problems; choose gratitude for the chance to learn a new lesson, gratitude for the opportunity to find a path that may provide new fulfillment, and gratitude for everything that makes your life good.
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