Basic Health Habit No.6: Positive Mental Attitude Part One

Happiness is an attitude:  
cultivate it

Imagine that you are a front-wheel drive vehicle. Your front wheels are your thoughts. The back wheels are your emotions. Your thoughts drive your emotions. What you think determines how you feel. The goal is to become an all-terrain four-wheel drive vehicle. 

Don't believe everything you think.

The good news is that just as you learned to drive a vehicle and earned a driver's license, you can also learn positive thinking and gain happier feelings. A positive mental attitude is a learned behaviour and happiness is a feeling that you can cultivate. Learning how to be a positive thinker will lead to greater happiness in your life no matter what the obstacle, or how rough and bumpy the road may get. Then you will be in the driver's seat of your thoughts and feelings.

Positive mental attitude is a Basic Health Habit.

Positive Psychology 

or The Science of Happiness really gained momentum in 1998 fueled by the vision of American Psychological Association President Dr. Martin Seligman. 

For most of its history psychology had rarely left the dark realm of mental illness and all that ails the human mind: anxiety, depression, neurosis, paranoia, obsessions and delusion. 

Dr. Seligman had begun to explore the sunny land of the mentally hale and hearty in earlier work. He had discovered that optimism leads to improved physical health, less pain and a decreased risk of dementia, less depression and mental illness, an improved quality of and longer life, more happiness and success, and people who are optimistic are more altruistic than pessimistic people, are more curious, creative, energetic and engaged in life and have better relationships.

Seligman thought that mental health could be more than the absence of mental illness; he didn't just want to help patients go from negative five to neutral normal, he wanted to discover the enabling conditions that make human beings flourish from zero to plus five. To discover what actively made people feel fulfilled, engaged and authentically happy.

Seligman, along with a team of Psychologists from around the world and many different studies later, concluded that the failure to believe that our behaviour matters was the greatest obstacle to happiness. They discovered that once a person has their basic needs met that it is not circumstances such as wealth, education, youth, marriage or good weather that determines happiness. 

They concluded that happiness is 90% internal response and 10% external factors. They discovered that meaningful relationships with family and friends has the greatest affect on our happiness. However when it comes to religion it was not clear whether faith or community does the heavy lifting.

Optimism and Pessimism
Five Myths about Optimism

1. Negative thinking is more realistic.
2. People with a positive mental attitude expect good things to happen simply by thinking positively about them. 
3. Positive thinking doesn't change reality.
4. Positive thinkers have no clue about the real world. 
5. Positive people are always euphoric and idealistic.
Pessimists may have a more realistic view of life at times because they expect undesirable outcomes and optimists may at times have an unrealistic view of life because they don't assume the worst. 

Pessimists believe that there are temporary, specific reasons for good events and universal explanations for bad events, while optimists believe that the reasons for bad events are temporary and specific. 

When something bad happens, pessimists feel that it is permanent and pervasive and it affects other areas of their lives, leaving them feeling helpless, whereas optimists are less likely to let the event affect other aspects of their lives and have an easier time accepting failure. 

Pessimists tend to have fixed ideas and negative viewpoints that prevent them from thinking creatively and optimists have hopeful, flexible viewpoints, are more stalwart and will try new behaviours. 

Pessimists hold themselves back from achievement and optimists tend to create a happier, more successful life. 

Pessimists see stumbling blocks where optimists see stepping stones.

I tend to operate as a pragmatic optimist. I also imagine that I am a luxury vintage yacht, on the sea of life. I didn't start out that way when I began my young adult life. I was quite an unworthy seafaring vessel. I made grand, unforgivable and irreversible mistakes. I experienced so much pain that I literally thought that it might kill me. I tried to run away. I told myself impossibly bad things about myself. 

And then one day I had an epiphany. I realized that I could not leave myself even though that's who I was really running away from and I realized that I could choose how I felt and I got off the fixed loop of my negative self thoughts and ideas. I decided that since I had to live inside me I had better make it a place where I was happy to be. 

I took an unblinkered look at myself and my life. I noticed that the pain wasn't as scary when I had a direct look at it. I accepted that pain is a normal part of life and I became grateful that I could feel. I accepted responsibility for myself and my life. I got busy learning and growing. I gained perspective. I developed a sense of humour. I earned my courage. I wanted to own myself. And I realized that if I took firm control of my ship and rode out the rough bits with tenacity and steered myself right, that I would come to smooth seas and that one day I would even like myself. I constantly have to tune myself up and re-orient my bearings.  I know that life is not static and neither are we. 

We can always learn and grow and develop new skills. Welcome the challenges of life or you will never know what you are truly made of and not just who you are when the going is easy. I am sure that you will like the you that you will discover if you embrace all that life is. If you have the courage to do this, I promise you, you will be more than you thought possible. 

 Tips For Cultivating Happiness: 
Plant it, Feed it, and it Will Grow

  • Make room for positive in your thinking and behaviour.
  • Happiness is a direction not a place. - Sydney J. Harris
  • Take care of your health. Tune up your basic health habits: sleep, digestive health and nutrition, hydration, physical activity, sweating, positive mental attitude, sunlight, breathing, rest and relaxation, meditation, hygiene, life skills, and nature. Read more here
  • Increase your capacity for loving. 
  • Know yourself. Own yourself.
  • Be kind to yourself. 
  • Invest time and energy in family and friends.
  • Be full of wonder. Start a journal of wonder to record the mundane to the magnificent.
  • Savour life's little joys and moments of pleasure.
  • It is important to work on social skills.
  • Optimists know that their behaviour matters. 
  • Develop strategies for coping with stress and hardship.
  • Have perspective.
  • Be pragmatic. 
  • Worry and anxiety are always about the future, states Brad. What if I'm in the water with a shark? Janet wonders. The shark hasn't eaten you yet has it? Brad responds.
  • Practice acts of kindness, both random and systematic.
  • Thank a mentor - someone that helped you through difficult times; in detail and in person.
  • Develop personal strengths and virtues.
  • Grace makes beauty out of ugly things. - Bono 
  • Develop your sense of humour. Laugh a lot.
  • Allow yourself to day dream. All original thinking happens in the subconscious. This is where you will  find your most creative ideas and problem - solving abilities. (conscious thinking is always related to something that you have seen or heard)
  • Optimists know that life is hard and it can be unfair. They take courage, learn to cope and work hard to make great things happen.
  • Optimists make their own luck.
  • You have to be ready for luck. 
  • Develop your love of learning.
  • Learn something new.
  • Do the hardest thing first.
  • Ask: What would the wise woman/man do? 
  • Be considerate. 
  • Be empathic. 
  • Learn to forgive. It allows you to move forward.
  • Engage in life. Have a sense of purpose.
  • Optimists have a firm grasp of reality.
  • It took me some time to learn how to smell a problem and get the hell out of dodge. - Sean Penn (he's in dodge now; I hope he has an excellent support team)
  • Learn how to smell a problem. 
  • Build an excellent support team. 
  • If there is a problem, there most definitely is a solution. 
  • Accept responsibility.
  • Allow yourself to dream.
  • Dream big. 
  • Learn to love all of life and not just the good stuff.
  • Be generous. 
  • Optimists sometimes get discouraged and feel blue, but they learn how to cope; they develop great strategies. 
  • Recognize thought patterns. 
  • Stop self-sabotage.
  • Mistakes are O.K. 
  • No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better. - Beckett
  • Learn to love people and not just humanity.
  • Optimistic people are not always optimistic. But it's not their fixed address. 
  • It is not smooth seas that make for a skillful sailor. - African Proverb
  • Regrets are inevitable. But you've got to move on.
  • Take time to be alive.
  • Life is about breathing. The rest is detail.
  • Breathe.
  • We learn walking by walking. So take it step by step; one step at a time. 
  • Be honest with yourself. 
  • If you want to change the world - start by changing yourself. - Ghandi
  • There is no way to peace. Peace is the way.
  • Be good to yourself. 
  • The goal is to be happy right here and now and not because of something. 
  • Have a massage. 
  • The best things happen when you're relaxed. 

Humour and Laughter: 
An Important Mind Game For Well Being
Our unique sense of humour relieves stress, keeps us fit and helps us to enjoy a long, happy life.

Scientists are beginning to take humour seriously. Margery Hutter Silver, a Neuropsychologist at The Harvard Medical School, studied longevity and found one common factor emerged in those who live past 100 - a sense of humour. Dr Hutter speculates that a sense of humour contributes to aging well because smiling and laughing provide the same benefits as exercise - she refers to laughing as internal jogging

Laughter raises blood pressure just long enough to increase oxygen and blood supply to tissues. It alters the breathing cycle so that more oxygen is inhaled and toxic carbon dioxide exhaled. Muscles throughout the body tense and relax during laughter in exactly the same way as with stress reduction techniques such as yoga.

Herbert Lefcourt and colleagues at Waterloo University in Ontario recently established that exposure to humour improves immune system functioning, producing significant rises in the body's natural defences, such as antibodies in the bloodstream.

Low antibody levels predict greater likelihood of future disease, yet what was particularily intriguing about Dr. Lefcourt's  study was that, given something to laugh at, those with a good sense of humour experienced the highest rises in antibody levels.

The ability of a good sense of humour to help cope with stress is now regarded as one of the most powerful defense mechanisms for dealing with problems over which you can do little.

Recent research has also established that electrical brainwave patterns of the right and left hemisphere tend to co-ordinate more when we experience humour. This is important because evidence shows that depression is accompanied by less co-ordination in brainwave patterns between the two sides. 

What is particularly fascinating about the latest discoveries is that they confirm some of the oldest ideas about humour.

Freud, who wrote one of the most unfunny books in the English Language, Jokes and Their Relation to the Unconscious, believed humour was a mechanism for anxiety release because a joke always has two halves. The first builds up psychic tension which is then broken by the ridiculous punchline. We are therefore allowed to release bottled up unease safely in a burst of laughter.

But the punchline has to resolve the tension it sets up successfully and surprisingly - in other words, all jokes are really problems that have a clever but unexpected answer.

Modern neurologists have found damage to the right brain - the emotional hemisphere - leads to acceptance of any incongruity as funny - sufferers laugh too much and often inappropriately.

Meanwhile, damage to the left brain - the logical analytical hemisphere - leads to an inability to understand the incongruity in a joke - producing too much seriousness.

This would suggest that humour is produced in the brain when the left hemisphere recognizes the incongruity in a joke while the right hemisphere - better at understanding the big picture rather than logical detail - resolves the anomaly. In other words the left cortex sets up the joke and the right gets it.

Dr. Peter Derks, a psychologist at William and Mary College in Virginia, has found that electrical brainwave patterns confirming the brain has picked up an incongruity are vital for us to find a joke funny. 

The latest brain scanning technology, functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI), is able accurately to localize brain activity. Research using fMRI is revealing where the humour centre in the brain is. The frontal part of the right brain becomes most active when a punchline arrives. Previously the right frontal lobe has been considered the most silent of brain areas. Now it would appear that it is the most important. The right frontal lobe is unique in the brain as an area that serves as a connecting point between different parts that might otherwise remain isolated. For example, the frontal lobe is strongly connected with the deeper inner parts linked to the experience of emotions - called the limbic system - and the parts associated with emotional expression, the temporal and frontal lobes.

The part of the brain linked to problem solving is the frontal lobe itself. It was not until scientists began to study humour that the right frontal lobe's importance emerged. Humour requires a unique integration of problem solving, emotional appreciation and expressive functions, and it was here that it came into its own. Integrating emotion and cognition, as we must to laugh, can only occur because of the ability of the brain to produce consciousness.

Laughter Yoga

Dr. Madan Kataria started laughter yoga in 1995 in Mumbai to share laughter, promote health and joyful living. It involves laughing for no reason, does not use jokes or comedy or yoga poses. Laughter is used as a form of exercise combined with deep breathing plus stretching and meditation. Pretend laughter leads to real laughter (although both have the same benefits) due to eye contact and the contagious nature of laughter in a group. Their are 5000 clubs in 50 countries. 

Quote: Happiness is an attitude, cultivate it: Mildred Barthel
Humour and Laughter - by Raj Persaud