Get Happy

Can changing your thoughts change your reality? Research suggests that an optimistic bent can help you succeed in business and in life.
Text by Dena Roché | June 6, 2018 | Lifestyle

Is the glass half-full or half-empty? More importantly, does it really matter? According to research and anecdotal evidence, the answer is a resounding yes. Positive thinking has left the realm of self-help chatter and gone mainstream. And, as it turns out, your attitude impacts your happiness, health, career and everything in between.
We’ve all been instructed to “look on the bright side” and witnessed the massive popularity of the book The Secret and others like it which seem to advise that if we ask the universe for what we want, it will be magically awarded. This isn’t what thinking positive is. “Positive thinking got a bad rap for promoting the idea that if you just think about positive stuff, it will all be okay,” says Barry Maher, Author of Filling The Glass: The Skeptic’s Guide To Positive Thinking. “That’s Pollyanna thinking, not positive thinking.”
Instead, experts agree that positive thinking isn’t ignoring the negatives or the realities of a situation, but instead seeing them and being able to deal with them in a positive way. “Positive thinking is being solution-oriented — you acknowledge a problem and figure out what to do about it,” says Patrick Wanis, Ph.D. “Negative thinking destroys all hope of transforming the event.”
To use a phrase from the self-help realm, thoughts really do become things. And this is why positive thinking is crucial. “As soon as you say or think particular words, you’re giving instructions to your mind,” continues Wanis. “It creates a belief system and whatever your belief system is, will be what you make happen.”
So all those times the voice in your head screams you won’t get the promotion, you aren’t pretty enough or that you’re plain stupid, you’re programming that reality to show up in your life. But the minute you decide, and truly believe, in your mind that something can happen, it can. “That belief changes everything,” says Wanis. “It sets your mind on a different course.”
Consider a 1960 study out of Wayne State University where high school basketball players were divided into 3 groups; one that didn’t practice, one that practiced for an hour a day and one that visualized making the targeted shot for an hour a day. At the conclusion of the study, the group that didn’t do anything showed no change in performance, the group that practiced had a 23% improvement and the group that simply visualized the improvement had 22% improvement. The experiment was a slam dunk for the power of our mind to change our circumstances.
So if a better life is simply there for the taking by changing our mindset, why do so few of us do it? “Our brains are hard-wired to be more sensitive to the negatives around us for protection,” says Heidi Hanna, Ph,D, & Author of The SHARP Solution. “We can rewire our brain to operate in a more optimistic state by paying more attention to what’s good, writing down what we feel grateful for, practicing mediation and having good self-care practices.”
In recent years, the benefits of a positive attitude have shown so much upside that an entire field, positive psychology, was created in 1998 by Dr. Martin Seligman. Prior to that, psychology focused on looking at what was wrong. Positive psychology does the opposite by exploiting the strengths we have to bring more beneficial things into our lives. Studies show that a positive attitude is linked to increased marital satisfaction, higher income and better friendships. The Mayo Clinic states that it’s linked to longer lifespan, less cardiovascular death, lower stress levels and decreased rates of depression. What’s more, a study in an American Heart Association journal showed that patients with a positive mood had a 58% higher likelihood of living another 5 years.
So what is a Negative Nellie to do? “Some people, due to nature or nurture come to positive thinking easily,” explains Dr. Kathy Cramer, Author of Lead Positive. “But anyone can learn how to be more positive.”
In the 1990s, a 10-year study of twins found that genetics had significant bearing on happiness and can account for about 50% of how happy we are. That’s a high number, but on the flip (positive) side, that means half of your happiness level is in your control. So how do you do it? “If we pay attention to negative behaviors of others, it’s like growing weeds…and weeds don’t need light and water to grow,” says Carrie Krawiec, a Michigan-based therapist. “Flowers on the other hand, need special attention. As people start looking in their life for the things they see as strengths and things they are thankful for, some of the other stresses melt away as a result.”
To train your attention to focus on the good, Cramer suggests becoming conscious of when you’re starting to think negatively. Instead, scan the situation for something else to focus on that’s more positive. For example, if you’re becoming annoyed because an accident is backing up traffic, focus on being grateful you weren’t involved in the crash. “By shifting internally, we create situations where we can excel externally,” says Cramer.
In her work with C-level executives, Cramer has found that positive thinking helps folks excel in the workplace and in life. “The biggest change is that these leaders start to welcome the day because they have the mindset that they can resolve problems and capitalize on possibilities,” she says. “They are on top of their day, their day isn’t on top of them.”