Orison Swett Marden wrote in 1910, “Optimism is a builder. It is to the individual what the sun is to vegetation. It is the sunshine of the mind, which constructs life, beauty, and growth in everything within its reach. Our mental faculties grow and thrive in it just as the plants and trees grow and thrive in the physical sunshine.
Pessimism is negative, it is the darkened dungeon which destroys vitality and strangles growth.”
Pretty clear message for anyone interested in living better, happier, during this time period of confusion about our health, wouldn’t you agree? One mind-incline builds, the other destroys. Let’s leave the science that supports this notion aside. It’s there if you care to delve into it. Begin with the grandfather of positive psychology, Martin Seligman, if you care to understand the health benefits of optimism.
I recently posted on my Facebook page, where every day for the past five or six years I post the #MantellDaily5, the following, “Replace the word ‘problem’ with the word ‘opportunity’ in all your thoughts.”
Doing so will help you choose a more emboldening rejoinder to any negative circumstance you face. It will also help to galvanize your mind to lean towards optimism. After all, isn’t looking forward to better things in life a healthy way to progress towards an enriched life?
What’s your dream? What’s your picture of post COVID-19 look like? What’ll it take for you to cling to, and propel towards, this image? Marden teaches that it’s far more important to know how to keep your mind “up to its maximum creative power by keeping it positive and avoiding everything which would make it negative and unproductive, than to learn all the Latin and Greek and philosophies in the world.” Fearful people are unable to do this. Courageous, farsighted, thinkers live this way.
Coronavirus presents challenges to all of us, be it financial, physical and mental health, parenting, career. Our task is to see opportunity, not problems, as we pass through the inevitable and realistic hurdles of his pandemic. Just as we are made to move and be physically active, we are made to accomplish, to grow, and to do so requires that we bring light to the darkness in and around our minds. There is a Yiddish expression, “Tracht gut vet zein gut—Think good and it will be good,” that begins to illuminate a darkened mind-incline. Like my saying that I posted and described above, the words we use, the thoughts we have, limit or liberate us. We know that MRI scans show that looking at just one negative word increases activity in the amygdala, where fear resides in the brain. Look at negative words for just several moments leads to increased anxiety.
Use words such as “peace” and “love” strengthens our cognitive functioning and through its impact on the thalamus in our brain, it affects the way we generally perceive ourselves and others.
What words are you using to bring sunshine into your COVID-19 experience? How are you labeling your experience? Are you focusing on sickness or on healing? On “frontline warriors” or those helping others? Are you playing a “small” part, or do you recognize there is no such thing as a “small” part in helping others? What would your experience feel like of you changed every negative word into a positive, so instead of “this is bad,” try saying, “this is the opposite of good.”
This is not some supermarket magazine silly naïve headline, “Thinking positively is the cure to COVID-19.” Indeed, Scientific American about a decade ago questioned the value of positive thinking in their article, “The Power of Negative Thinking.” Similarly, Newsweekmagazine in their article several years ago, “The ‘Tyranny’ of Positive Thinking Can Threaten Your Health and Happiness,” also brought a spotlight on how “when people acknowledge and address negative emotions toward their relationships or chronic illnesses, it helps them adjust their behavior and have more appropriate responses.”
Perhaps too much positivity when things don’t work out the way you’d have liked them to, may be harmful to your ego. But what about the deeper parts of you? Do you place your faith in yourself, in circumstances, in what the doctors fighting with each other about the need for masks or not? Or do you place your faith in something larger, in the infinite power of a Higher Power? Do you have faith, faith anchored in trust and hope? Do you believe that despite what in the natural looks bleak, there is Divine order?
It’s your choice. You can illuminate your mind, bring sunshine, by resetting your default thinking process. Borrowing from Marden again, “The man who can smile when everything seems to go against him shows that he is made of winning material, for no ordinary man can do this.” You can’t belittle yourself and come through this time well. You can’t continue to damage and impair your thinking, bruise your mind, and hope to see sun shining through.
Lao Tzu reminds us, “Watch your thoughts; they become words. Watch your words; they become actions. Watch your actions; they become habit. Watch your habits; they become character. Watch your character; it becomes your destiny.” A negativity bias won’t ever help you live better. Ever. No, we can’t avoid COVID-19, but we can view this illness and the ravage it brings in a broader, zoomed out way, that liberates not limits our moving through it well.
What’s the key? Begin each day with a positive thought about what can right in life, a positive, grateful affirmation. However small it may be, train your sight on what is good, turning even failures into positive lessons. Talk to yourself in positive ways, substituting fatal poisonous thinking with its antidote. Be sure your friends are those who illuminate your path and if not, be your own light. In fact, even when your friends do help vivify your day, always be sure you brighten up your own thinking by looking upwards. Your wellbeing is at stake.