Steph’s note: I’m committed to bringing you the best resources for overall health, recognizing that food is just a piece of the puzzle. Today’s post comes to you from my good friend and mindset maven, Alessandra Wall of Life in Focus. She’s a master at helping people reach their goals and get clear about what they really want. In her signature Change of Heart program, she uses her career experience as a psychologist to help folks move past their road blocks and achieve success. Alessandra fully embraces and lives a healthy lifestyle: From real food to regular exercise and making time for play, she truly walks the talk. Take it away, Alessandra!
Moments of Bliss – Cultivating Happiness in the Real World
What is it that optimistic people see that the rest of us don’t get? How is it possible that a pessimist and optimist can experience the world so differently? The answer is perspective. What if you could develop some of the care-free, stress-free perspective of your optimistic friends? Would you do it?
Some people’s lives seem golden. Ask them how their day went, and they spout off all the great things that happened to them: the lucky parking spot, the smile from a stranger, the reprieve they got a work, a delicious snack they had, an amazing work out. You get the idea. It’s enough to make you wonder if their lives are really that much better than yours.
On the other hand, some people seem to be marked for misery. Ask these folks about their day and you’ll hear about the spilled coffee, the jerk who didn’t hold the door for them, the horrible news they heard during their commute to work, and don’t even get them started on their jobs. Clearly their lives are miserable, right? Wrong. In the vast majority of cases the daily going-ons of both these people are actually similar; the difference in their experience lies in their perspectives.
Reality is subjective.
Reality as we know it is comprised of two things: 1) the world as it is, and 2) the world as we see it. The latter is what truly determines our experience.
It doesn’t really matter what the world is like; what matters is what you see. The difference between a pessimist and an optimist is not the events that take place in their day; it is their perception of those events. A pessimist notices and attends to negative events much more than an optimist.
Taken to an extreme, pessimism can start to look like depression. Depressed individuals are exceptionally proficient at noticing negative events in their lives. The difference between a pessimist and someone with depression is that the person with depression not only notices negative events, but they also dismiss positive ones and can distort neutral situations to seem negative. Actually, a large part of therapy with people who suffer from depression centers around teaching them to see the world as it is, balancing out the good, the bad and the neutral.
Optimists on the other hand, focus on positive aspects of their world to a greater degree than the rest of us. A true, healthy optimist is not unrealistic; they are not focusing on the positive to the exclusion of the negative. They are simply paying more attention than you to the things that are good and to the experiences that bring them pleasure and joy.
Nature or Nurture: Can you manage your reality?
Human beings are pain averse; this is true for physical pain and emotional pain. It makes sense, since pain in general is an indication of something going wrong, and evolutionarily, something going wrong meant that our survival was at risk. Because of our strong survival instinct and the associated aversion to pain, our brains are hardwired to remember and recall negative events much more efficiently than positive ones. One might argue that pessimists have a finely honed survival instinct as they seem to be even more aware of negative outcomes than the rest of us.
However, we are not entirely biologically determined. Actually, when it comes to disposition such as happiness, only about 50% of that is genetic, and another 10% is circumstantial, leaving 40% within our control. That is good news folks, because that means that you can shape your disposition. You can shift your perspective through the choices you make, and if you really want to, you can become more of an optimist. All it takes is some mindfulness skills, and the ability to pay attention to one’s experiences openly and purposefully.
(Steph’s note: I’m reading an amazing book right now about happiness. Check it out.)
Moments of Bliss
Developing a positive outlook is an amazing skill/gift, because at the end of the day, our world is what it is; there are things you can do something about, and others you can’t control. The ability to cultivate a positive outlook is quite powerful. To this end, there is an exercise I love. It entails noticing what I like to call Moments of Bliss (MOB).
MOBs are times in your day when things feel right, good, joyful, peaceful or fulfilling. They can be big events or small occurrences. Examples of MOBs are all around you: that first sip of hot coffee in the morning, getting a piece of mail that you were waiting for, noticing the beauty of a bird’s song, hearing a favorite tune on your ride to work, a smile from a stranger or a friend, a quiet lunch break, a meal waiting for you at home, a load of laundry someone else has taken the time to fold, or finding a parking spot within a block of your destination. What constitutes a moment of bliss is entirely dependent on the individual.
Don’t be fooled. It can be more challenging than it seems, especially on days where the negatives outweigh the positives. To start try writing down one to three good things that have happened in your day. Often, people will notice bigger events at first, but as they hone their positive outlook, the smaller pleasures of life become more evident. The people who have given this exercise a go and who practice developing this skill have all report improved moods and a greater sense of satisfaction with their life. It’s worth a try, don’t you think?