I’ve been doing a lot of research on happiness lately-not happiness simply as an emotion but a long term state of well being and positivity. I am enamored with positive psychology and how our brains can actually become rewired when we focus on positive outcomes and reframe our challenges. I know, I know. You glass-half-empty-the-sky-is-falling-waiting-for-ths-other-shoe-to-drop folks out there are rolling your eyes at me. But I have RESEARCH on my side now, so there!
When I was in middle school I volunteered to help found The Optimist’s Club at my school (insert “oh my, what a dork you were” comment here). I can’t really remember what the heck we even did at our meetings, but I loved the idea of being part of a group that wanted to focus on positive change and bringing happiness to others. I guess that’s been a part of my persona all of my life.
When I took the Gallup StrengthsFinder a couple of years ago, it came as no surprise that my #1 strength was…you guessed it. Positivity.
From a cultural perspective, it’s kind of funny that my ethnic heritage doesn’t necessarily set me up for happiness. The UN released a report on the happiest countries in the world, Poland ranked near #30 and Armenia near #90 (The U.S. is #10). However, what both my Polish and Armenian ancestral roots share is resilience, the ability to survive and thrive amidst terrible odds. Maybe part of my ability to reframe my world to find meaning and positivity comes from this aspect of my heritage. Or maybe I’m an anomaly among my people.
To me, positivity does not mean lying to oneself about what’s hard, negative, unchangeable. It’s not about creating false hope. It’s not about just being nicey nice all the time. It’s about reframing the landscape in front of me to find meaning, to focus on what I do have power over, to appreciate what I’m learning about myself and this life, even when times get really, really tough. This world is difficult enough to navigate, and anger, bitterness, and victimization corrode our bodies, minds and spirits like acid.
Our brains are emitting emotions that trigger hormonal reactions throughout our bodies. The more stress we allow in our lives for long periods of time, the more we disintegrate our immune systems, our bone density, our heart health, and even our brain functions. We literally kill ourselves with stress. Yet if we can focus on positivity, if we can retrain our brains to look at a situation from the perspective of appreciation and a sense of purpose, we secrete hormones that boost our body’s and brain’s abilities to function at the highest level.
I admit I don’t live every moment in a state of nirvana where I am free of stress. I get pissy, frustrated, and bitter. I snap at my loved ones (especially these days but I blame the hormones for that…sorry, hubby). I hold grudges. I wonder, “why me?” I get stuck on my own insecurities and negativity. This is not easy stuff. It takes a lot of mental, emotional and even physical effort to push my brain to focus on the positive. Yet it makes such an incredible difference when I’m facing conflict and tough times.
I’m not a neuroscientist. I’m just a nerdy girl at heart who is in love with the idea that we can free our own selves from the shackles of insecurity and anxiety. What if everyone on Earth did this? What would it be like if we all developed the abilities to manage our stress and negative emotions and focus on creating a better planet for ourselves and everyone else? What would happen to war, poverty, injustice, violence, environmental decline?
I don’t care if this post is idealistic and dreamy. As a lifelong card carrying member of the Optimist Club I will pledge allegiance to this mission every day of my life.