Happiness For Dummies
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Unlike other animals, humans have the gift of perspective, and perspective is about choice! You can choose to be happy. You can choose to see life as a glass half-full (optimistic) or a glass half-empty (pessimistic). It all comes down to whether you define problems as challenges or crises. Having the right perspective is a key to achieving happiness.

Evaluate the seriousness of a crisis to be happy

When tragedy strikes, most people initially feel as if there’s no tomorrow. This response is nothing to be ashamed of — it just means we’re human. The key is moving beyond that initial response and getting some perspective on the situation. To accomplish that, it helps to:

  • Think of what you’ve done in similar crisis situations in life. Similar doesn’t necessarily mean the same. For example, if you find yourself grappling with the bad news that you have prostate cancer, you might ask yourself “What did I do when I got fired from that job I had years ago – that I loved?” After all, a crisis is a crisis — deal with it as best you can.

  • Recall what others have done in this same situation. How did your brother react when he found out that he had cancer? If you’re not sure, by all means call him up and ask him how he kept from panicking. Try looking at the sky from his perspective.

  • Think in non-catastrophic terms. Instead of thinking “This is awful, terrible, horrible,” say to yourself “This is bad — certainly not something I wanted to hear.” Remember: Your brain listens to what you think as well as what you say — if you think the sky is falling, your brain will act as if it is and you will end up feeling overwhelmed.

Be optimistic and be happy

Benefit-finding is greatly aided by having an optimistic attitude. Optimists don’t deny that bad things happen in life — they just refuse to dwell exclusively on the negative. They leave open the possibility of finding the good in the bad.

Nancy, a young woman in her late 30s who had hurt her back while working as a nurse, was an optimist. “At first I was disheartened. I loved being a nurse and I hated losing my job. But I couldn’t continue to work with all this pain,” she said.

“Eventually,” she continued “I decided to look on the bright side of things: Being unemployed — while not my choice — did allow me to be a stay-at-home mom to my three kids while they were growing up. We’re a lot closer, I’m sure, than we would have been otherwise. At least I have that to be thankful for.”

Ben, also in his 30s and a victim of chronic pain, was not an optimist. Ben could only see the negatives of what life had to offer following his injury — loss of income, no longer having contact with his buddies at work, and a perception of himself as being of no use to anyone.

He was an angry man, bitter, and resistant to any notion that life could still be meaningful in some way. Sadly, Ben died of a heart attack at the age of 41, and even his cardiologist admitted it was the result of a broken heart.

There are some definite advantages to having an optimistic outlook. Here’s the short list:

  • Optimists are more self-confident.

  • Optimists are more likely to be problem-solvers.

  • Optimists persist despite adversity — they’re not quitters.

  • Optimists welcome second chances at life.

  • Optimists are less likely to assign blame for their misfortunes.

A study published in the journal Health Psychology by researchers at the University of Helsinki looked at the effect of optimism and pessimism on how quickly 5,000 employees rebounded from a major stress — death or severe illness in a family member.

Employees high on optimism had fewer sick days as a result of this type of stress than did their counterparts who were low on optimism. Whether employees were high or low on pessimism appeared to make no difference whatsoever.

Bottom line: Pessimism may not hurt you, but an optimistic outlook sure helps.

About This Article

This article is from the book:

About the book author:

W. Doyle Gentry, PhD, is a clinical psychologist, a distinguished Fellow in the American Psychological Association, and the Founding Editor of the Journal of Behavioral Medicine.

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