No, we haven’t found the fountain of youth. However, psychologists and neuroscientists have conducted a ton of research regarding how people can flourish in this life and enjoy happiness, while actually extending their lives— in both a physically and mentally healthy way. This post truly captures the essence of the three most powerful, research-based psychological strategies to make this happen – quickly and permanently!
1. Maintain optimistic expectations
Optimistic expectations can help you challenge setbacks that come your way. Neuroscientists have discovered that self-talk can actually re-wire your brain in either a very positive or very negative way, depending on whether it is optimistic or pessimistic. This re-wiring process is called “neuroplasticity.” One of the best ways of changing your thinking is to develop an optimistic interpretation of negative events that you experience.
Burgeoning research by Dr. Martin Seligman (“Learned Optimism”) involved hundreds of studies where people were trained to change their hard-wiring from reacting to disappointing events pessimistically, to reacting optimistically. Thus effectively changing feelings of helplessness and hopelessness (the main contributors to depression) to hope and self-confidence helped them eliminate their feelings of depression.
Many of these studies also show when people develop an optimistic attribution of negative events, they can often recover from the physical challenges associated with chronic depression and anxiety.
So, how do you explain setbacks and unfortunate events to yourself?
How do you persevere and remain resilient under adverse circumstances?
Do you look at setbacks as overwhelming catastrophes or as hurdles that can be overcome?
How Pessimistic People View Setbacks
I refer to this kind of self-talk as “linguistic toxicity.” When bad things happen, pessimistically hard-wired people tell themselves such things as:
- Internal Cause (“It’s my fault.”)
- Permanent (“It’s a permanent flaw.”)
- Pervasive (“It’s always going to be this way for the rest of my life.”)
How Pessimistic People View Good Outcomes
When good things happen to pessimistically hard-wired people, they view it as
- External Cause (“It was a fluke, or luck.”)
- Temporary (“This won’t last.”)
- Exclusive (“I was lucky with this, but the rest of my life is awful.”)
How Optimistic People View Setbacks
I refer to this type of self-talk as “linguistic nutrition.” People who are hard-wired, or learn to give themselves optimistic explanations for setbacks, view them as follows:
- External Cause (“This was a fluke and an exception to the rule of how things go with me.”)
- Temporary (“This is a fluke occurrence. It won’t happen again.”)
- Exclusivity (“I had difficulty dealing with this, but in the rest of my life I am thriving.”)
How Optimistic People View Good Outcomes
People that are optimistic expect good outcomes to occur frequently.
- Internal Cause (“It’s my skills, work ethic and motivation that caused this to happen.”)
- Permanent (“I certainly expect good things to continually happen to me.”)
- Pervasive (“This is just one example in my life where I have the skills and talent to be successful.”)
Obviously, it is extremely important for people who are not hard-wired to attribute unfortunate outcomes in an optimistic sense, to learn how to remove their pessimistic thinking habits, and change them to positive thinking.
2. Laugh as often as possible
Research on the amazingly powerful effects of laughing on the body and mind started with the groundbreaking book by Norman Cousins (“The Anatomy of an Illness”). Cousins chronicled how he completely recovered from a terminal diagnosis by laughing out loud several times a day, for at least a few minutes each time. He produced the humor by watching the funniest videos he could find (“The Three Stooges,” “Candid Camera,” and others) while hospitalized for his illness.
Once he saw how his pain subsided while laughing, he convinced the medical staff to take his blood pre and post laughing episodes. The results were remarkable.
His symptoms immediately went into remission, and he helped fund massive research projects studying the power effects of laughing and having fun on brain chemistry, and the eradication of physical symptoms. One of the more modern advocates of the power of bringing fun and humor into ones’ life is Dr. Steve Allen, Jr., a physician and the son of the famous comedian, Steve Allen.
3. Maintain a strong support system of friends and family
Depression affects nearly 15 million Americans and each year close to 43,000 commit suicide in this country. Recent research into how to minimize depression without using psychotropic medication demonstrates the idea of an “Anti-Depression Toolkit.”
Three powerful tools in the toolkit are are:
a) using healthy self-talk (“linguistic nutrition”)
b) any form of spirituality, including prayer and meditation
c) frequent exercise.
However, the most important “tool” by far is having a caring, empathetic, and non-judgmental support system. While depressed individuals often lack the energy or motivation to reach out, it is a critical component of mental health. For example, widows and widowers are particularly vulnerable—having lost their soul mate, and they can slip into depression if they do not build an alternative support system. If you suffer from depression, you must also stay away from critical, judgmental, anxiety-provoking, and demanding people. You can always consult with a therapist to decide who to include and exclude from your network.
Research shows that when one has a strong support network their emotional strength grows. This means getting involved with an objective sounding board of like-minded peers, and removing yourself from the isolation that accompanies depression. Social interaction is conducive to a healthy and active lifestyle.
There you have it. Do you want to build amazing resilience to stress, add joy to your life, and extend your well-being far more than you have ever dreamed? Add an optimistic and expected habit. It brings fun and laughter into each day, and nourishes your support system.