Should you try to be more optimistic, hopeful, and positive because it could make you live longer?
CBS News has a story out entitled "Just how powerful IS positive thinking?" (OK, "positive thinking" is a poor term for the constructs referenced in the research. It's journalism - take what you get!) The story questions - based on research - whether optimists, for example, experience better recovery results when faced with things like cardiovascular disease or cancer. The article leaves the impression that science clearly says no. Leading researcher Marty Seligman in his new book Flourish, disputes that conclusion, pointing to a recent review of 83 studies of optimism and physical health that indicate some significant effects. Dr. Seligman suggests the cancer question is unsettled but also predicts that work coming out of the Army's Comprehensive Soldier Fitness program is going to give us much better answers to these questions in the next few years.
None of us is getting out of this alive.
The question is, how are you going to live?
In my (still mostly hypothetical) course Positive Psychology through Country Music, I'd probably use Tim McGraw's "Live Like You Were Dying." (Video below!) It's the message of man who thought he had a short time to live and started doing what he knew was important and meaningful to him. Think bucket list.
I am reminded of the story in The Resilience Factor by Reivich and Shatte of the man diagnosed with a terminal but manageable illness who spent the time he had scouring the world for a "cure" only to realize that he had thereby ignored many opportunities to do what really mattered to him, especially being with family and friends. "Other people matter." A participant in a training I conducted recently talked about his sister's way of dealing with terminal cancer by focusing on living fully in ways she cared about such as checking herself out of the hospital to go home for a few days and organize a birthday celebration for one of her children. It was obviously powerfully positive for him. That's how I'd like to go out.
With all of that, I agree with Barbara Ehrenreich's rejection of "blame the victim" and efforts to tell others how they "should" react to any situation. I think most of us are doing the best we can under all the circumstances, and no one else knows all my circumstances. I don't even know all my circumstances. So, encourage, yes. Then cut ourselves and others some slack. Other people matter, even when they are struggling. Here's Tim. Enjoy!