"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.
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.