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Happiness Strategy #4: CULTIVATE OPTIMISM

Is your glass half-empty or half-full? Your response to that question may have an impact on your health, your ability to manage stress, and your general life satisfaction. Recent research indicates that optimists and pessimists approach problems differently, and that their ability to cope with adversity differs as a result. Optimistic people tend to manage stress better and to have more adaptive responses to difficult life events.

In addition, having an optimistic outlook on life has been found to have a significant positive effect on quality of life, including one's physical and mental well-being. Hope seems to keep our mind at ease, lower stress and improve physical health. Researchers studying heart-disease patients found that optimists were more likely than non-optimistic patients to take vitamins, eat low-fat diets and exercise, thereby reducing their overall coronary risk. A study of cancer patients revealed that pessimistic patients under the age of 60 were more likely to die within eight months than more optimistic patients of the same initial health, status and age.

Fortunately for those of us who lean toward the pessimistic end of the continuum, there is some evidence that optimism can be learned through practice. Becoming more optimistic will not, as some fear, make you a "Pollyanna' who refuses to acknowledge life's very real difficulties and challenges. Rather, increasing your optimism will help you anticipate the best rather than the worst and look for the good in every situation, even the tough ones.

In order to become more optimistic, we need to retrain our brains to look for the good. While a gratitude journal encourages us to appreciate the good we have, the following exercise will encourage you to notice the good things that happen each day, which, over time, will reduce the tendency to anticipate the worst. At the end of each day, recall three good things that happened or three things that went well that day. They can be small things like, "I heard from a friend" or " I had a good run". If you want to increase the effectiveness of the exercise, write them down. Over time, your brain will become trained to notice the good things so you can include them in your nightly exercise, and you will gradually begin to experience the many benefits that optimism offers.

To learn more scientifically validated strategies to increase your happiness, see my

Science of Happiness group, beginning March 2.

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