Well, the end of the summer holidays. No more visiting new places, tasting new foods and feeling the sun on your face, especially if you live in the UK! It seems to be getting dark so early too as the nights draw in and the summer comes to an end and “back to work” mode is in full flow.
Is it back to the grindstone or ….is it the start of a new dawn, a new beginning, a new challenge? Well of course that depends!
Taking a favourable view on events and expecting a positive out come can do more than just influence your mood.
Suzanne Segerstrom, Professor of psychology at the University of Kentucky, believes that “People who are optimistic are more committed to their goals, are more successful in achieving their goals, are more satisfied with their lives, and have better mental and physical health when compared to more pessimistic people”.
Having a positive outlook is not only an important predictor of resilience (how quickly people recover from adversity) when dealing with difficult circumstances but it is the most important predictor of it. People who are resilient tend to be more positive and optimistic compared to those who are less resilient. They tend to be more able to regulate emotions and maintain their optimism through the most trying circumstances.
Elaine Fox, Research Professor at University or Oxford, has discovered what she calls the “Brightside” gene, which seems to underlie some people’s ability to deal with daily stresses. Those without it are likely to have a gloomier outlook on life, and suffer more from mental health problems such as depression.
Fox says, “We’ve shown for the first time that a genetic variation is linked with a tendency to look on the bright side of life, this is a key mechanism underlying resilience to general life stress”. In her tests she has shown that a tendency to ignore negative images and dwell on the positive ones was strongly linked to a variation in a gene that controls serotonin, the brain’s main “feel good” chemical.
So if you are naturally more like Eeyore, what can you do?
We can programme ourselves to think positively over time. It is all a matter of choice whether we want to make optimism a habit.
Segerstrom suggests that the trick is to act like an optimistic person, even if you aren’t feeling particularly hopeful. “If you think that the future can be positive, you’re more willing to put in time and energy to make that come about”. By being engaged and persistent, even if you don’t feel particularly positive, the benefits of optimism—like satisfaction and health—will soon follow.
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