How’s your cup? How to learn to be optimistic

Can we learn to be optimistic?

I believe so, and researchers agree.

But it will take some undoing of early programming.

The average fourth grade child has heard the words “no, you can’t do that” over 70,000 times.  So we have to work to overcome that negative imprint.

The research

Not only are optimists happier than pessimists, research shows they are healthier, live longer and make more money.

Studies of pessimists have linked a pessimistic outlook with higher rates of infectious disease, poor health, and earlier mortality.

In a survey of millionaires, 94% said their optimistic outlook was the biggest reason they were successful.

A study of 99 Harvard University students showed that those who were optimists at age 25 were significantly healthier at ages 45 and 60 than those who were pessimists.

 Learning to be optimistic

You can learn to be an optimist, even if you weren’t born one.  Dr. Dana E. Lightman, author of Power Optimism, offers these techniques on how to reprogram your brain to think more positively:

  1.  Say, “thank you.”  A University of Pennsylvania study found that saying “thank you” to even one person increases your level of happiness.  You’ll make them feel good and feel better about your own life
  2. Stay in touch with your family.  University of Illinois researchers found that the happiest, most satisfied, and most optimistic people have strong ties to family and friends.  Live far apart?  Make a point of scheduling family events; and use facebook, skype and the phone!
  3. Write down all the things that went right for a week, even if it’s simply that nothing went wrong.  According to a University of California, Riverside study, people who tracked what went right by writing it down were more optimistic.
  4. Sing a happy song!  Choose an upbeat song you like and change the lyrics to something positive.  When something goes wrong, sing it – the positive lyrics and upbeat melody will boost your mood.  For example, to the tune of “Happy Birthday“ try “I’m so glad I’m alive, and the sun’s in the sky.  I’m so grateful, I’m so thankful, every day how I thrive.”    Corny?   Sure!  But you can’t sing it without smiling, and that’s the point.
  5. You’ve heard that “birds of a feather flock together” so hang out with people who are positive and make you feel good.  I learned this one a long time ago and it really makes a difference.

My conversion to optimism

In my 20s, I was constantly sad — always struggling and gloomy.  One day a friend asked me how I was doing and I replied, “I’ve been having a hard time lately.”

Her reply was sobering: “You’re always having a hard time.  That just seems to be who you are.”

Astoundingly, I hadn’t even realized how often I said that.

Her feedback motivated me to want to change.  I worked at it and today, no one who knows me would ever believe I used to be that sad person.

It’s like learning a new language.  It takes practice, and constantly catching yourself when you think a negative thought.

Research has also shown that the language we use can affect our brains and physiology positively or negatively, so it’s time to learn positive language.

Let’s say you’re an English speaker learning French, and practicing your French as much as possible.  Once in a while an English word may pop out of your mouth while you’re intending to speak French.  Catch it right there and change it to the French word.

Do the same with your thoughts and words.

A typical negative phrase people use is, “With my luck it will rain after I wash my car.”  So change it to: “With my luck the sun will shine.”

It’s that simple.  With practice, you’ll become fluent in optimism.

 Reframing other people’s pessimism

You can also learn to re-frame other people’s pessimistic comments.

On the TV show Friends, the character Monica always felt criticized by her mother, particularly when her mother used the phrase that she’d “pulled a Monica,” meaning she screwed up once again.

So her friend Phoebe suggested that Monica give a new definition to “pull a Monica.”

For example, “Oh, she helped that little old lady cross the street.  She pulled a Monica.”

“She rescued that kitten from up a tree.  She pulled a Monica.”

Changing the gloomy outlook to a positive one is a matter of changing your thoughts and language.

Does it take work? Absolutely.  Will it change your life?  Absolutely, positively!!

Give it a try and let me know how it goes.

[quote] “People often ask for my advice and counseling, but overall, the best advice I can give to anyone at any time is: Never complete a negative statement.”  Bear Heart in The Wind Is My Mother[/quote]

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Molly Larkin

Molly Larkin is the co-author of the international best-seller "The Wind Is My Mother; The Life and Teachings of a Native American Shaman”  and other books on health. She is passionate about helping people live life to their fullest potential through her classes, healing practice and blog at www.MollyLarkin.com

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