Optimism is important for us all, as it can help us live longer.
In fact, multiple studies have shown that an optimistic outlook can add 4-10 extra years of life, impacting cardiovascular disease, flu and even cancer.
Only 10 percent of our total happiness is predicted by external circumstances--like the death of a loved one, divorce, illness, or a financial crisis.
So where is the other 90 percent?
Fifty percent comes from what we inherit. That's our baseline. We can't change that. Some of us are just more optimistic while others are more pessimistic. But that leaves 40 percent we can control.
Positive and negative emotions are at work within us all the time. Sometimes the negative ones win out. Research from Barbara Fredrickson reveals that we have a tipping point--with negativity on one side and positivity on the other. To get emotional balance, we need at least three positives for every negative. The good news is that we can use specific techniques to proactively add more positives into our life. Here are five steps to leading a more positive life:
1) Ask "What went well today?"
This is so simple, but so powerful. All we do at the end of the day, and it doesn't have to be every day, is ask "What went well today?" Then dig deep to think of at least three things. Did we get to hold our new granddaughter? Did we have a good conversation with our significant other? If it's been an especially bad day, one of our "what went well's" might be as simple as enjoying the bowl of ice cream we had. Know that there are some positives in bad days just like there are some negatives in good days. This exercise becomes even more powerful as we look for positives during the day, as they are happening.
2) Find meaning
My late husband, Charles, who was a compassionate leader in his company, was haunted by the old 60's song sung by The Vogues. "It's a five o'clock world when the whistle blows, no one owns a piece of my time." Charles was concerned that too many people were selling their lives away for a paycheck and didn't find meaning in their jobs. He understood that when we are engaged and feel purpose in our job, life becomes more fulfilling.
One way to find what is meaningful is to answer this question "When have I been energized at work or in my life?" If we are aware of what is energizing to us, we can bring the conditions for that about more frequently.
3) Discover and apply strengths
Whenever you use your strengths--doing what you do best--you get a blast of positivity and become happier and less depressed. Strengths include your talents, interests, skills or character (i.e. "This is the real me.").
You can discover your strengths by taking a free online survey--www.stronglifetest.com (for women) and www.viasurvey.org (to discover character strengths). Or just ask someone close to us what they think your strengths are. Learning about your strengths makes you feel good. Applying them in a new way can make you feel even better.
4) Enjoy our passion
We lead busy lives so our passions often take a back seat. But that ruins an opportunity for positivity. Passions are an expression of who we are. If we aren't engaging in them, we are neglecting part of our identity.
5) Stay connected
Connecting with others may be the most important way to bring positivity into your life. It's wired into our biology--shooting out pleasure-inducing hormones when we make a positive social connection. Social connectedness is the only thing that the happiest ten percent of people have in common, according to researcher Ed Deiner. Social bonds not only predict happiness, but also career achievement, occupational success, and income according to a Harvard study by Vailant. So let's pick up the phone and call an old friend, or make plans to go to dinner with others.
Janet Edmunson, M.Ed., President of JME Insights, speaker and author of Finding Meaning with Charles. Visit her website at www.affirmyourself.com.