Positivity is holding an expectation that things will turn out well. Thesaurus.com offers the term, “affirmative willingness.” When we have a positive attitude toward life, we are willing to see people and events in the most affirmative light.
Tony Robbins has said, “Life is always happening for us, not to us. It’s our job to find out where the benefit is. If we do, life is magnificent.”
Medical research shows that an attitude of positivity supports your health. One study began in 1975 in the town of Oxford, Ohio. Researchers asked people over age fifty to participate, and more than eleven hundred subjects answered questions about their work, health, family life and their attitudes about aging.
Over the years, the subjects continued to contribute to the study, updating researchers on their feelings about life and aging. In the late 1990s, Dr. Becky Levy of Yale University followed up on the people who had participated, using death records to gather information on those who had passed away. She learned that on average, people who had positive views about growing older lived 7.6 years longer.
I think most people are either pessimists or optimists — a glass-half-empty or glass-half-full person. Which are you?
Pessimists believe that life is random. They expect the worst, and they believe that expecting and preparing for the worst is a realistic strategy for managing life. After all, even if good things are happening now, eventually it will all go to hell.
Optimists believe life, on some level, makes sense. They trust the process of life. That doesn’t mean they don’t buy insurance and save for a rainy day, but they do those things because they understand life has natural ups and downs.
Pessimists don’t think it really matters how hard they try. Their efforts are ultimately doomed.
Optimists have confidence in themselves. They expect to make mistakes and face obstacles, but they believe they will ultimately overcome adversity and accomplish their goals.
Pessimists look back and focus on their failures and disappointments. They then project that pain into the future, and expect more of the same.
Optimists think of the past and focus on the good things. They project positive feelings into the future, and expect more good things.
It is impossible for you to observe everything that happens in your life, and impossible for you to remember much of it. Life is a process of selective focus, and selective memory.
Pessimists focus on the unhappy things, and they use most of their memory recording the unhappy things. Looking ahead, they anticipate unhappy things.
Optimists focus on the good things. They notice the good things that happen, and they remember mostly good things. They may also retain painful memories, but because they consider them anomalies rather than the norm, they look forward anticipating better times.
There is evidence that genetic predisposition influences whether you are optimistic or pessimistic by nature. However, whatever your natural inclination, it is possible to move toward a greater attitude of positivity. You can do that by using your selective focus, observing and remembering all the things in life for which you are grateful.
Here is an exercise you can use to train your mind to observe and remember positive events. Once a day, whether it is in the morning or the evening, write down all the good things that have happened in your life, in the life of people close to you, and in the world. Every week, read through what you have recorded.
It is useful to avoid watching the news, and to strictly limit the time you spend on social media. Most channels of information in the world are driven by bad news. Death, destruction, famine, war and illness are dramatic ways to draw our attention and sell advertising.
In fact, while most of us will experience some painful things in our lives and there is no guarantee of the future, life for most people is much more good than bad. A website called Kickass Facts publishes lists of reasons to be optimistic. Here are just a few they cite:
1. Cancer rates are down 20% in the past 20 years, and decreasing at a steady rate.
2. People are getting smarter, at the rate of about 3 IQ points every ten years.
3. Around the world, for the past 200 years, people have become significantly healthier and more financially secure.
4. Life expectancy is increasing.
5. The world is steadily growing safer, and if you live in the Western world, you are less likely to experience violence than at any time in history.
People who pay attention to the news tend to believe life is getting worse, and in fact, just the opposite is true. Humans are flawed, but our lives and our planet are moving in a positive direction.
Originally published at medium.com