For over thirty years, I have been practicing the skills of optimism. It began with a traumatic divorce, which was wearing me to the ground. In addition, I was very concerned about my ten-year son, who was depressed by the multiple tensions floating in the house. Emotions were at an all time high—with anger and grief topping the list.
What could I do?
I knew that my son deserved a mother who exhibited joy and happiness. I was aware that there is research about happy teachers having happy students. Therefore, there must be similar research about mothers.
I would practice being happy.
I had mentioned to a friend that in my emotional life, it was raining all the time. She gave me a small plaque she had painted that I hung in the kitchen. It said, “I believe in the sun even when it is raining.” This became my mantra. The sun would come out and I would do all I could to help it.
Therefore, I made an agreement with myself not to complain—no matter the provocation—to Caleb about his father. In addition, in the mornings we established a new ritual—three jokes from each of us told to the other–before leaving for school. Some of his he made up; I confess that I laughed even when they were not very funny.
When school was over, I asked him to share his day by beginning with the funniest thing that had happened. I heard many bathroom stories. Then I asked him about the most interesting/intriguing part of the day. This was followed by—let’s make a decision about one fun thing we are going to do before bedtime. Sometimes they were ridiculous. We both put our pajamas on backward. We both brushed our teeth with our non-dominant hands—which created lots of foam in the sink, which we turned into mustaches and beards. This cheered me up.
This cheered him up.
Then I began to send positive messages—Caleb, this trauma will not last forever. I said that a significant amount of times. Then I said—this is only one aspect of our lives. I also said this a significant amount of times. Finally, I said—and this was probably the most important message of all—our brains are amazing; we have the ability to create/build/design happy and productive lives for ourselves.
Several years later, I discovered the research of Martin Seligman, guru of optimism. As I am frequently in a bookstore, I saw a copy of Marty Seligman’s book entitled, Learned Optimism. Ah ha, this was what I needed.
Coping skills for adversity are important.
I picked it up and read it in one night. Yes, absolutely, I want my child to be able to cope with adversity—to withstand the overwhelming negative news that hits the newspaper and TV reports, or not being invited to a friend’s birthday, or failing a test, or not making first string on the basketball court. Moreover, optimists are healthier, experience less stress, often better problem solvers, and live longer.
Inoculations predict future wellness
A friend once told me that the average person experiences twenty-eight adversities every day. If so, I want both myself and my son inoculated against them. No-one can avoid sadness, heartbreak, adversity. It is part of the human condition. Yet at the same time, we want to be happy. As happy as possible as much of the time as possible.
Optimistic people are happier, they bounce back quicker, they roll with the punches. They have the following mindsets, understand the following statements, remind themselves often and practice them.
3 Habits of Extremely Optimistic People
Habit #1. Happy people know that trauma does not last forever. It is a temporary thing. They remind themselves, “This too shall pass.”
Habit #2. Optimists accept that heartbreak does not consist our entire lives. They place emphasis on other, more currently successful parts of their lives.
Habit #3. Positive thinkers appreciate that we can create our own changes, create a new reality for ourselves. They seek out opportunities to effect those changes.
This is what Caleb and I did during that terrible year. I continue to do so every time I hit the metaphorical bump in the road. As a recovering pessimist, I constantly remind myself of these points. Twenty-eight adversities a day is a LOT. I suggest we all take these habits on board.
What coping skills do you have to deal with your twenty or so daily adversities? What helps you the most? Please tell us in the comments. I truly appreciate heart-felt and thoughtful comments, they make my day.
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The 7th International NexusEQ Conference is taking place at HARVARD UNIVERSITY in Boston, June 24-26, 2013. There isn’t a lot of time left! Join me, and luminaries such as Peter Salovey, Marco Iacoboni and Herbert Benson, for a ground-breaking three days. You can read more details about it here.