Friday, May 4, 2012

The Rapid Highway to Lasting Happiness :-)!

One of the stereotypes many people hold is that happy people are optimistic fools who don’t understand what is going on in the real world.  If you one of those people, read on!

Just so we are on the same page, optimism is a general disposition to expect the best in all things. Optimism gives us the sense that no matter what the situation, everything is happening for the best. Optimists are people who expect good things to happen to them.  And in my personal experience, such optimism is a rapid highway to lasting happiness :-)!

In 2006, Sonja Lyubormirski and Kennon Sheldon’s research proved that people who envision the best possible future for themselves tend to experience increased personal well-being. The study also showed that the consistent practice of an optimistic outlook will not only increase, but will sustain, happiness over time.

When happiness challenges arise, how you respond will depend on whether you are an optimist or a pessimist. Optimists are likely to expect to have positive outcomes even when things are hard. Their confidence in the positive outcome yields positive emotions. 

Research shows optimism predicts lower levels of depressive symptoms in a number of studies.  There was a surge of research in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, which indicated:

A general sense of optimism about life leads to a high satisfaction with life
Higher levels of optimism predicts lower levels of distress.

Optimism relates to psychological adjustment both directly and also indirectly through a sense of personal efficacy (the ability to think “I can do it!”)

Optimism has a positive effect on psychological well-being among people with medical problems and their care givers.

Optimism is related to lower depression and higher levels of psychological well-being
Higher levels of optimism upon entering college predict lower levels of psychological distress toward the end of the first semester.

All this in not an accident!

Sometimes optimists get a bad rap for not being “realistic”.  However, in the Handbook of Positive Psychology, two top researchers on optimism, Charles Carver and Michael Scheier (2002), explain, “Optimists are not simply people who stick their heads in the sand and ignore threats to their well-being.  Indeed they attend to risks, but selectively.  They focus on risks that are applicable to them and also are related to potentially serious health problems. If the potential health problem is minor, or if it is unlikely to bear on them, optimists do not show elevated vigilance emerge. Optimists appear to scan their surroundings for threats to well-being but save their behavioral responses for threats that are truly meaningful.”

In other words Optimistic people are likely to take action steps to ensure the positive quality of their future!
For example, Optimists report having more health promoting behaviors than pessimists.
Optimism relates to an increase in the likelihood of exercise, vitamin intake, and the consumption of low-fat foods.
Optimists make an effort to reduce their risk to safeguard their health!

Do you see now that optimistic and happy people are in fact smart, hardworking, and experience many benefits in life?! So now are you ready to cultivate optimism for yourself?

Yes, that’s right, even if you are pessimistic now, you can learn how to become much more optimistic, it’s just a matter of changing how you think :-)!

In late October 2007, ground breaking happiness research proved that there is in fact an optimism center of the brain! Science Daily (October 25th, 2007) reports,
A neural network that may generate the human tendency to be optimistic has been identified by researchers at New York University. As humans, we expect to live longer and be more successful than average, and we underestimate our likelihood of getting a divorce or having cancer. The results, reported in Nature, link the optimism bias to the same brain regions that show irregularities in depression.
(The study was conducted by a team of researchers from the laboratory of NYU Professor Elizabeth Phelps. The lead author is Tali Sharot, now a post-doctoral fellow at University College London).

This shows that if we exercise the optimism part of our brain we will indeed be happier!  This is really monumental research in the new science of happiness. Go get your rose colored glasses!

For the actual transition from pessimism to optimism, researchers look to cognitive behavioral therapy to help you train your brain differently. I am not asking you to ignore horrible things going on around you, just try to have faith that everything happens for a reason.  You can be a “realistic optimist.”

In addition to controlling your thoughts in response to happiness challenges, I think it is essential for you to know that you are in the hands of the universe and you can develop faith in the concept that everything will work out just fine. No matter what, we are part of a plan, and although we do have free will, there has been a destiny laid out for us.  Have faith and be optimistic!

Keep a journal in which you imagine and write about the best possible future for yourself.  Right now, start brainstorming about what that future will look like for you :-)

For more great ideas and tools to help you cultivate your optimism, visit my self help store!


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Dr. Aymee Coget, a widely-known happiness expert, has more than 15 years of experience in positive psychology. Through the Happiness Makeover™, a program developed by Coget, she teaches people how to achieve happiness and handle life's challenges. She also serves as CEO and founder of the American Happiness Association, a science-backed nonprofit designed to educate individuals and organizations about how to be happier, and was nominated for CNN Hero of the Year in 2011. 

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