A friend of mine recently sent me an article entitled “Looming Climate Catastrophe: Extinction in Nine Years?” I skimmed it reluctantly and noticed phrases like “accelerated global warming” and “a massive extinction event, including humans”. Bleah. I just couldn’t bring myself to read the whole thing. Maybe I’m a bit fragile because of the barrage of scary US political updates. But I’m not sure I want to know new depressing details about another looming catastrophe.
Part of my job as a naturopath involves motivating others to make diet and lifestyle changes that help optimize their health. This requires me to feel authentically hopeful about their potential outcome. So naturally I feel rather protective about my own positive attitude. It’s not something I can fake and it’s important for my job.
By “positive attitude” I’m not talking about pretending life is all lollipops and rainbows. To me, life is about striving for balance. We each have the capacity to experience a wide range of perspectives from optimistic to pessimistic. But choosing to be positive or to ‘make the best of things’, does seem to make even the most challenging situations easier to bear. And whenever I notice a cynical attitude starting to dominate my own mental sphere, it’s time to do something about it. But what?
One thing I’ve noticed is the number of happy and positive people in my life right now. A little joke or a word of encouragement can really make a huge difference in my day. So for this blog post, I decided to to talk to a few of these folks and share with my readers some words of wisdom from the people that inspire me to be more positive.
I started with my dad. If you can imagine Tigger as an 82-year-old retired organic farmer who recently had a couple of hip-replacement surgeries, you’re getting close to picturing my dad. He has bounced through life with loads of enthusiasm and a smile, despite recent health setbacks and an unusually challenging childhood.
Dad has always spent the bulk of his social interactions trying to make people laugh. “It makes me feel good to make other people happy, I guess. I’m happy when they’re happy.” That approach to life is so simple and perfect. In fact, it’s supported by research, and exemplified in this old Chinese Proverb:
“If you want happiness for an hour, take a nap. If you want happiness for a day, go fishing. If you want happiness for a year, inherit a fortune. If you want happiness for a lifetime, help somebody.”
Great! Next, I asked Robert Ridpath, a sales representative for nutraceutical company Metagenics. Robert is a glass-half-full fellow if there ever was one. He told me this: “The one thing I’ve learned to help me stay positive is what I simply call… Look for the good. Whenever I meet people or experience new places I have this internal dialog that starts asking question like, what do I like about this person? What one thing can I compliment them on? What can I learn from them? What’s good about this situation? and so on. I also find it helps to ask the other person what do you like about this? It gets them thinking and builds the conversation towards something positive.” Great advice!
Clearly Robert’s positive attitude is a conscious decision. That also appears to be the case for Donna Dowsett, National Director for Team Diabetes and Events at Diabetes Canada, and also – lucky for me – my Running Room Marathon Clinic Instructor. Donna is perfect for her role as motivator in our clinic: caring, enthusiastic and high energy. Here is how she developed her approach to life:
“Staying positive for me is a choice…. it’s way too easy to sink into all that’s not going quite right. I made a decision a while back that life is far too short to be wasting precious time and energy on what could go wrong..I didn’t want to miss the really important life moments staring me in the face. I’m super fortunate and blessed that my chosen career path allows me to draw inspiration from the people I work with. The strength and the passion drips off them and I am all about soaking it up. I surround myself with people I can learn from and who inspire me to do and be better. I give no apologies for walking away from negativity, and won’t be drawn into it.”
This advice sounds right in line with comments from motivational speaker Jim Rohn: “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with” says Rohn. Also, it validates the concept of “emotional contagion” which is identified when “one person’s emotions and related behaviors directly trigger similar emotions and behaviors in other people”. That means that, according to the psychological literature, if you spend time with positive people, you tend to be happier, more positive and less stressed. Donna is definitely on to something.
One of my weekly rituals is going to Kitchener Market on Saturday mornings. I like running into friends and neighbours and I feel more connected to my food consumption by shopping there. I purchase mozzarella cheese at one of the indoor vendors, Bast Cheese Co., often from 15-year old Josh. Josh is always “awesome” or “fantastic” when you ask, and is often excited about an upcoming social event at his church. What’s his secret? “I like to focus on songs filled with hope. Anything on the radio or anything that I really enjoy I like humming that in my head while I do something.” That reminds me of a certain song by Snow White and her woodland creature friends!
Josh also added, “even though you might not be feeling positive, just say you’re feeling positive, because the more you say it, the more you’re going to believe it.” Psychologist and best-selling author Dr. Harriet Lerner would echo Josh’s advice … for some people. In this Psychology Today article, she says “Pretending joy or happiness can be a self-fulfilling prophecy, helping us discover or enhance our capacity for these positive feelings.” Lerner suggests that this technique might not work for everyone – particularly those who have a hard time being vulnerable or sharing their problems. But it’s worth trying to see if it makes a difference.
I also asked my question to one of the Friday evening bank tellers at TD Canada Trust, Marcella Velasquez. Marcella was raised in both KW and Managua, Nicaragua. Her enthusiastic demeanor and friendly smile help bring some brightness to my end-of-the-week banking routine.
Marcella identifies as someone who used to have a more negative mindset, but has made efforts to turn things around, through a number of life changes such as exercise and meditation. Also, she says a big part of her approach is to embrace ‘taking risks’. Even though risk-taking doesn’t come naturally to her, she said it’s worth the effort. “If the outcome is good or bad, you can at least know you tried it and you can always keep trying!”.
I find Marcella’s advice super-inspiring. Like her, I have a natural tendency towards being cautious, and when pursuing goals and dreams the fear I won’t succeed is sometimes strong. More ambitious goals often have greater risks, but, in the end, I believe the rewards are also greater. As we can learn from Marcella, positive thinking can help us get over our apprehensions and pursue our goals, if we use it to focus on the potential for success instead of the fear of failure.
So aren’t I lucky? These five individuals are just a few of the people in my life who, consciously or unconsciously, have turned their own life lessons of positive thinking outward to benefit the people around them. Thanks everyone! I’m glad i asked!