Sunday, April 3, 2011

Oh, Lighten Up

"When it comes to our health, there are four things essentially under our control: the decision not to smoke, a commitment to exercise, the quality of our diet, and our level of optimism. And optimism is at least as beneficial as the others." -- Martin Seligman, PhD, author of Flourish, and expert in the field of positive psychology.

Most people who meet me and find out about my chronic illness and surgeries remark on how calm and happy I seem and are rather astonished at my history. I don't have a neon sign flashing about my head that advertises 'hardship case' and never will. I do find it irritating, however, when every once in awhile someone nods sagely and suggests I am too 'Pollyannish' and not in touch with my feelings to truly 'process' my situation.

No.

Believe me, I've processed it.

Happiness is a choice.

It resides within. Negativity is stressful, sucks one dry, and the worry spikes the cortisol hormone, which can suppress the immune system. So not only is negativity a downer, it can make you ill.

The people I know who are happy, have just as much unhappiness in their life as anybody--they just make the choice to remain positive during difficult times. Knowing you can choose is a powerful tool to have in your arsenal. There will always be hardship and pain and nothing is ever perfect (that's why LIFE is a four-letter word), but if you choose to accept that and live in the moment and with the mindset that you will ultimately prevail, trust me, things will lighten up. Or you will.

You can train yourself to focus on the sunnier side of life if, when your mind veers off to dark projections, you relax and loosen up, express yourself, reach out to others, try meditation and exercise, seek help when you feel you need it, and choose to look at the bright side of things.

Like Dorothy said in the Wizard of Oz, 'don't go looking for happiness because it's in your own back yard.' (paraphrasing here).

I was reminded of this last Sunday at a support meeting that got hijacked by a woman who was bemoaning the same things she has whined about since October: lack of a job. Parents and siblings who didn't understand her plight (she's 54).
While these things were problems and real to her, I looked around at the group she was talking to: A widow. Someone whose husband has ALS who has called in hospice care for him. Another who has lost a child. One who cannot conceive. Someone living with cancer the past 25 years and had that week lost a family member. Another whose adult child lives at home and is a constant source of worry.
Yes, Eyeore's problems are real, but in the scheme of things?? Not so much. She went on far too long. (And she used 'you know' far more than an adult should). I found myself thinking if I were a potential employer, I'd never hire a sad-sack like her. Finally, after wishing I had a peen-ball hammer in my bag, I got up and excused myself from the group. Because of her we all decided we'd better limit the amount of time people could hold the floor.

I am a super-optimist, and that can come with its own bag of tricks, but internal happiness is far more powerful to me than the fleeting external happiness so many others focus on. And I think it's kept me alive all this long.

13 comments:

Linda Starr said...

Keeping it real in the world that surrounds me each and every day, you've struck a cord with ne here as you'll soon see.

I'm all for positive thinking and the power of the individual will. I've been an eternal optimist all of my life. I've risen above insurmountable obstacles all of my life and been commended for those to this day.

Then the dawning of a simple medical problem 10 years or so ago, seven different doctors to diagnosis a low thyroid over a seven year period and thousands and thousands of dollars out of pocket, (another high deducitble insurance) and none thought to test me for a simple test, a most commonplace throid test, I almost died and lapsed into a coma. Then somehow I rose that and did well for ten years.

The last two years, bad back injury, almost lost home in California to foreclosure, then recovered over a year from that. Now with $10,000 deductible, over the last year I diagnosed myself with Celiac disease and got over that somewhat. Then crept in IBS. What with one financial and medical problem after another I've been barely able to rise above the downward spiral.

Unfortunately if a person doesn't have the money to pay their everyday bills or pay for a good diet even if they know what is good for them and what is not, or the money for a special diet their body needs, i.e. gluten free. IBS free, they all cost much more. Even processed food has rise astronomically in the last few years, with no money to go to any holistic physician for help, it is catch as catch can. When a person doesn't have the money for medical care, or to pay for food bills and fuel to retrive the groceries, or pay the medical bills, negativity inevitably creeps in, no matter how positive that person is.

Yes I remain on the bright side, but almost daily I have nightmares of the black hole, the vortex, and the spirit wind entering my mouth from around the corner, so vivid, I wake up in terror to those events. So, try as I might, I am no longer sure I'm fighting a winning battle for those who are suffering let alone for myself.

Jane said...

This post was especially poignant for me, in light of my most recent post, and the feelings which triggered it.

Sometimes I forget to stay positive, and appreciate all of the little things - that is, sometimes I forget that happiness is a choice, and I must make it. Thank you for reminding me.

Ms. A said...

I'm absolutely positive that I'm a negative person. It's the one thing I'm sure of.

Cottage Tails said...

Hence why I can't go to support groups - I find them such downers.

Life is a choice with dealing the hand you are given - I can always find someone else worse of than our lot.

CFS/ME has really taught me to find the smallest things to be greatful for.

((HUGS))) to a Pollyanna view on life!

Love Leanne

Retired English Teacher said...

Well said! And, best wishes to you. Your attitude is something we all need more of.

e said...

Kudos to you! I'm trying to stay positive and being in the moment helps. So does having someone send you tea and funny magnets. Thanks for your e-mail.

Traci said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Traci said...

I think your view on life is wonderful and your writing is always a reality check to my wanting to always express myself (bad or good.)

ReformingGeek said...

I love being around positive people!

Blessings to those that are finding it hard to be positive in their situations. I guess nobody ever said it was going to be easy.

Mrs. Tuna said...

I may get blue for a few days but always even in the darkest times look for the positive and move on.

marciamayo said...

I too am an optimist, which makes life much more enjoyable no matter what happens to you.

Arkansas Patti said...

"Negativity is stressful, sucks one dry". That is so true but it also sucks dry those who love you or who have to deal with you. Negativity is a disease all on its own.
You are smart to stay positive Polly, that is where I live and it is a darn good place.
I am lucky that my cancer support group is dedicated to causing belly pains from laughter.

Jayne Martin said...

I completely agree with you. We have no control over the shit that happens. The only control we have is in our response to said shit. We are ultimately a product of our choices and whether to focus on the dark or the light is a choice. Not always easy, by any means, but a choice nonetheless.