The Science of Optimism and Resilience

by midlifecrisisqueen on February 12, 2013

I’ve been reading an important article in the January 2013 Scientific American MIND lately called: “The Science of Optimism” by Elaine Fox.

It basically says we choose either consciously or unconsciously what we focus on, and how we interpret what happens around us helps to determine how we feel about our present and future.

Even though these choices are often made unconsciously, they do have immediate effect on our levels of optimism and resilience:

“New research tells us that subtle, subliminal biases in interpreting events [around us] can affect our life trajectory.  Through some combination of genetics and personal experiences, we can develop a habit of seeing the proverbial glass as either half full or half empty.  That frame of mind in turn alters our resilience to adversity, for better or worse.”

This is an awareness that has become ever clearer to me as I age.  When things went bad in my own life in my late 40s, I slowly began to see how I had the power to interpret these misfortunes as either harbingers of bad news for my future, or as simple signs that I needed to make better choices, so I might live the rest of my life in a more positive state of mind.

I saw that I had ingrained biases which caused me to naturally interpret life occurrences in a negative way, and this pessimistic predisposition was working against me, causing me to have a hostile view of my world.  This new article in Scientific American says that we do have the power to change our “interpretational style,” thereby lowering the anxiety and depression levels in our brains.  This can change the life of those who suffer from anxiety and depression disorders, but it can also greatly benefit those who simply wish to lift themselves out of negative moods.

If you find yourself focusing too much on fears about your future or sad memories from your past, try making a conscious decision to focus on the present, and the realization that things are truly good right now.  Count your blessings daily, and find ways to change your routine to interrupt bad moods.  Get outside in the sun, take a walk, interact in more positive ways with others.

Make more conscious choices about who you spend your time with.  Do others cheer you up and give you energy or steal it all away?  Give yourself a 20-minute break from your day as often as you can to meditate or calm your stressed-out brain.

I am slowly teaching myself to interpret things around me in a more positive, optimistic light.  I like feeling like I have the power to choose my perspective.  This is a basic coping style that works for me.

Where is a good place to start?  Don’t believe everything you think!

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Cathy Chester February 13, 2013 at 6:23 am

It’s true your thoughts are not necessarily trustworthy. They are merely interpretations of doctrines you’ve “learned” through life experiences you’ve accumulated, such as peer pressure, sibling rivalry, abusive relationships, reading the news, etc. We have to believe in ourselves more and trust what others’ opinions less. Easy? No way! We are all works in progress. Meditation, yoga, taking walks are some solid ways to clear our minds and help us start anew during a difficult or stress-filled day. Being positive is the order of the day! Great post and sound advice for everyone.

midlifecrisisqueen February 13, 2013 at 8:47 am

Cathy:
I have learned that I do have a choice in how I react to life circumstances, and why not error on the side of positive? Viewing everything as negative gets you nowhere. Laura

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