Bobby McFerrin released, ‘Don’t Worry, Be Happy’, in September of 1988. I had turned 18 earlier that year, graduated high school and decided to move out of my parents house. It was time to make it on my own terms, something I had wanted to do for quite some time. But, when it finally came time to start looking at places to live, finding a room-mate and leaving, I was scared to death. My Mom played a big role in helping me, partly because she knew I was ready and partly because she wanted me to go. It was truly the right time. The melodic advise in the song, ‘don’t worry be happy now‘, was just what I needed in those days.
As I think back on it, with what I guess could be called wisdom, I find it humorous that I was worried at all. About anything. Those are big firsts, to be sure. But in the grand scheme of things, those were easy days. Much more challenging stuff would come my way. But, I was too young to understand that at the time. Or maybe we are always too myopic in the heat of the moment.
I would like to think I am getting better at being optimistic, feeling happy and thinking positively. Isn’t funny, we need to work at improving in an area which should probably come quite naturally. I mean, the very act of being optimistic can make us live longer. Fact.
A Harvard study found that women who were optimistic had a significantly reduced risk of dying from several major causes of death over an eight-year period, compared with women who were less optimistic. ‘Optimism and Case-Specific Mortality: A Prospective Cohort Study‘
This is but one study which begins to recognize the importance of enhancing psychological resilience. In other words, the way we use our brains to regulate our mood can change physical health outcomes. The findings of the study suggest that we should make efforts to boost optimism, which has been shown to be associated with healthier behaviors and healthier ways of coping with life challenges. Amazing.
Some people might ask, how much difference does it really make to health and longevity? In fact, data analysts are forecasting years, based on the research. This is not a minor number of extra days or months. Whats more, because the power of optimism is reducing the likely hood of chronic disease, the quality of the extra years could be far greater as well. Good news all round.
But how does this work? If it is so easy to be more optimistic, why isn’t everyone participating in this free health miracle? I would have to blame modern life. Although, as my personal example shows, life will always get you down if you let it. The problems of today, which seem so big right now are not going to seem like much down the line. ‘Live for the moment’ and all the other platitudes, memes and other motivational phrases popping up in social media do little to help. In fact, because some people are so prolific at posting these things, the very mention of them makes people feel worse about themselves, not better.
No, there is nothing easy about being more optimistic if you are not already actively practicing it. In fact, up to 25% of our natural optimism may be inherited. So that doesn’t help too much. If the problems go life are overwhelming or if there are others forces at work like depression, the deck can seem really stacked against us. What are we to do?
I’ll reference a few things, with my personal examples, in order to provide perspective. This list might help get your creatively optimistic juices flowing. It is not pollyanna. I’m not wired that way.
- Gratitude. I know. This is plastered everywhere on every advise list. But, it works. I find it works best in a highly charged negative state. So when something truly crappy is afoot, dig deep into your gratitude reservoir. It could truly, always be worse. When my family is at each other, arguing and nitpicking, (seems to be at the dinner table, waiting to start eating when we are all hangry), I ask that each of be grateful for one thing about each other. The mood of negativity breaks and even the worst mood is instantly lifted. Not only that, but gratitude frames our memory. Trick is to insert this into a personal moment. That instant when your mind is running roughshod over an issue. Insert gratitude then.
- By way of films, youtube, books or the internet in general, learn about inspirational people. Particularly ones who are in the same boat as you. The beauty of modern life is we can be connected to others, even at a distance. You, me, we are not alone. Somebody has felt or is feeling the same thing and has a perspective which can be helpful. Or they are just purely doing amazing stuff which gives you the kick in the pants to get out of your funk.
- Actually connect with people IRL, in real life. Work at building deeper connections with those you already like and love and then broaden the circle. Has to be face to face and the dose is frequent. This can be a problem for introverts, but if the people are chosen wisely, the reward will be great. Study how to form deeper and more loving connections. Your optimism depends on it. I have much to learn here as I look through Tiny Buddha’s advice in ‘How To Feel More Loved‘. I have always thought that connections with other people were built through common sense. But if you look at the ways to do better, it is amazing how much deeper the connections could be.
- Seek out your tribe. This can include online relationships and groups as well. Because the world is far smaller due to the internet, it has never been easier to find like-minded people. After spending years in an industry surrounded by many people who I did not identify with on a personal level, I am committed to finding my tribe. Each day, I get closer and closer to this. I even find people I already knew, but who were not part of my close circle are more like me than I thought. Be opening myself up and being brave and vulnerable, I am finding a rewarding world of community that I could not have previously imagined. It takes effort, but it is truly worth it.
- DO NOT IGNORE CREATIVITY. This is dear to me, obviously. This can manifest in so many ways, well beyond what anyone might try to narrow the definition to. Be open to all the possibilities of expressing creativity, whatever feels right and good in the moment. But, do something. Consuming all day long is not the answer. Becoming endlessly inspired without action doesn’t work. It is paramount for the sack of your health to exercise your creativity. Even something as simple as going for a walk, with the camera turned on, notice what you see. You may delete most of what you shoot later, that is not the point, but the act of creatively observing is key. Or try changing up an old recipe just a little, a small creative twist. Write. Whatever, doesn’t matter. I am a huge fan of the morning pages, prescribed by Julia Cameron. Anything. Go, be creative in some way, now.
I’ve given some thoughts on how to move towards being happier, or thinking in more optimistic ways. James Clear wrote an article on the reasons why you might not be happy, backed by science. I think his work is fantastic, but I just don’t approve of taking the negative stance. I know it is more effective, to stir people into action, but it does not feel right for me. If you would rather, have a look at, ‘10 Common Health Mistakes‘.
There are many more ways to practice being optimistic. If that is not already your disposition, it might be a good time to try out these ideas. It is never too late. For now, I am grateful for my little travelling family. Since we have no home, we rely on each other to a higher degree than most families.
#creaspatreat – Join me in this creative journey. I am on a mission to start a global movement, focusing on the importance of creativity in our daily lives. Together, let us see where we can take this. I look forward to hearing from you! Please share your thoughts. Feel free to send an email to: Christine@dailycreatives.com
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