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Flourishing Through COVID-19

The power to gather your inner strength and get through this current world health and economic crisis is entirely in the words you hear in your thinking...

Want to have some fun? Well, not side-splitting rolling on the floor fun. I guess you’d call it an entertaining mind exercise, my kind of pleasure on a sheltering-at-home Sunday afternoon after a great 3-mile walk with my wife. Google the words, “positive psychology.” 

I just did and came up with, no joke, 519,000,000 hits in .52 seconds! Can we get a WOW! Can you believe how much “positive psychology” must be in the minds of people to find that many Google hits? 

Perhaps Kate Hefferon, Ph.D. in her book, “Positive Psychology and the Body” uncovered a reason why this concept is getting so much interest. She points out that when we look at the relationship between positive emotions, happiness (subjective wellbeing) and longevity, on average, happier people live longer. She finds that being happy can actually add up to 10 years to your life. Who doesn’t want to be happier, have greater wellbeing and live longer? As if that’s not enough, there’s more.

Sarah Pressman, Ph.D., in her interesting research found the use of more positive emotional words in the autobiographies of 96 famous psychologists (“lively, vigorous, attentive, humorous”) was associated with living on average six years longer than those who used more negative words (“angry, afraid, drowsy, sluggish”). 

Martin E. P. Seligman, Ph.D. credited with unearthing positive psychology, in his well know book, Flourish, shared, “I used to think that the topic of positive psychology was happiness, that the gold standard for measuring happiness was life satisfaction, and that the goal of positive psychology was to increase life satisfaction. I now think that the topic of positive psychology is well-being, that the gold standard for measuring well-being is flourishing, and that the goal of positive psychology is to increase flourishing.” Flourishing. A nice word, right? 

I’d like to offer you 4 uncomplicated methods to pack in your mental carryall that will serve as turbo-fuel for you when you are attempting to secure your best self, construct the good life, and fortify a positive, flourishing mindset. 

I begin with thoughts because, well, that’s where happiness, positivity and wellbeing begin. Ever try to lift the spirits of someone who’s in a coma or unconscious? You can’t. Why? Because they aren’t processing and consciously thinking about external events to be able to be frightened, loving, anxious, depressed, angry, happy, calm, flourish… you get it.  Unless and until you are actively thinking, using your ability to tell yourself something about an external event, there is no positivity or negativity. The link is what you think.

But before you begin to think that thinking is the sole key to a flourishing life, pull out your gym membership (hopefully your fitness club is reopening soon) if you can still find it, or lace up your sneakers and go for a good walk. Why? Because we know that physical activity is a stellar intervention to generate positive psychology and wellbeing. It diminishes risk and relieves ill health, and even more, it engenders positive feelings, self-esteem, positive body image, enriched cognitive functioning, posttraumatic growth, purpose, self-mastery, self-confidence, and that magic emotion, flourishing. Whew! Especially today, in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, moderate, consistent levels of activity are better in supporting your immune system than more intense levels of exercise. Be active, not too much, every day. 

Here are my four links to cultivating a positively flourishing mindset through this crisis:

  1. Possibilities always exist

Bu who says certain outcomes MUST, OUGHT, HAVE TO, or SHOULD occur? Give up the demand, insisting or expecting (D.I.E.) that life should be a certain way and you’ve released yourself to enjoy what is. Perhaps your belief that something MUST occur might simply be erroneous. The Junior Varsity players tell themselves, “Oh, it’ll happen if I work harder at it, but maybe not right now. As long as I know it’ll happen the way I want it to, I can be happy.” The Varsity players tell themselves, “I can be happy and remain positive even if things don’t work out like I would have wanted. I’m still fine.” Just because possibilities always exist doesn’t mean everything will occur the way you want them to.

  • Focus on what’s going right and be grateful for it

I have a belief that is summarized in this acronym, EWOP: Everything works out perfectly!  What could be “right” about getting fired from your job? What could be “right” about missing a plane? What could be “right” about a flat tire? What could be “right” about a relationship that went sour? What could be “right” about a life-threatening diagnosis? What can be right about COVID-19? What can be right about losing income, having kids around constantly not attending school, and being cooped up in the same spot all day long with growing tension in your home? And be GRATEFUL on top of it? That’s things working our perfectly?

Seriously, Michael? Yes, seriously. You know that traffic jam you avoided? You know that new guy or gal you just met? You know how many friends came out of the woodwork to show their love and support when they heard about your illness?  What do you want to focus on? The thorns or the roses? You see, one focus fosters anger and negativity. The other brings light into dark places and illuminates your path to flourishing in life. Why sit in darkness when you can grow from every opportunity and see purpose in your pain? 

  • Change is always for the good

Many people believe, falsely, that change is always for the bad. When you hear yourself predicting the future based on the present, especially if that prediction is negative, you are actually “cursing your future.” “I’ll never pass this online course,” “I’ll never lose weight,” “I’ll never meet the right person.” You are filling your mindset with a defeated filter through which you only see the sour in life, not life’s sweetness. We become comfortable with where we are, with our friends, our job and sometimes are afraid of change. Remember when Steve Jobs was fired from Apple, the company he started? He sure could have thought, “ Oh no, this is terrible, this change is bad.” He moved forward with the belief that nothing happens TO you, but rather change happens FOR you. He started another company, learned new skills, grew the company until it was so successful that Apple bought it and re-hired Jobs—with a new set of skills and confidence that led him to create even greater impact on the world of technology and life. And of all of the quotes on seeing change as always positive, something better’s coming, this one from Marilyn Monroe is especially encouraging, “I believe that everything happens for a reason. People change so that you can learn to let go, things go wrong so that you appreciate them when they’re right, you believe in lies so you eventually learn to trust no one but yourself, and sometimes good things fall apart so better things can fall together.” The point is to accept and grasp change to move forward to your destination. The 2,000-year old Latin saying, “per aspera ad astra,” meaning, “through adversity to the starts,” fits so well here. Facing an obstacle in life? Ask yourself what you can learn from this and what positive purpose it is here to teach you.

  • Leave no room in your mind for anything negative.

Who is living in the vacant spaces of your mind? If you allow negative thoughts in, and don’t eliminate them quickly, you’ll find yourself overrun by the kind of voices and weeds that destroy any chance of the good life, of happiness, wellbeing, of optimism. Do you see yourself defeated, predict loss, see emptiness and sorrow ahead? Or do you visualize and imagine yourself happy, rising, healthy, peaceful, prospering, advancing, being promoted? If you can’t even conceive it, you won’t believe it. If all you read are lists of sad, depressive, negative stories, use only negative adjectives, science tells us that you’ll come to feel that way. And recall the research at the beginning of this article. It is life shortening. Whatever you put in and allow in your life, impacts you, just like the flavor you add to your coffee—chocolate or vanilla. It tastes like what you put into it. Yes, the link is definitely what you think. 

Yes, the good, flourishing life can be taught even through COVID-19. That means you can learn, which means you are thinking differently. That’s where we began this, with thinking. Add these four powerfully positive thoughts to your mindset, be physically active daily, and watch the good life, happiness, satisfaction flow. The power to gather your inner strength and get through this current world health and economic crisis is entirely in the words you hear in your thinking, so start by changing those words, being positive towards yourself, and flourishing.

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