A positive attitude throughout life can reduce your risks of a heart attack by up to 50% according to research published in the April 17, 2012 journal Psychological Bulletin. Investigators from the Harvard School of Public Health reviewed more than 200 studies and found a clear relationship between our mental and physical health.
These findings are consistent with decades of research in the discipline of Positive Psychology that an optimistic attitude results in all kinds of emotional, behavioral, and physical benefits. Research has documented that optimism is not an immutable trait determined by one’s genetic code, but rather a skill that you can teach your ten-year-old child.
An optimistic style is not based upon the mechanical repetition of positive statements, or the silly efforts to enhance children’s self-concepts. According to Dr. Martin Seligman in Learned Optimism, the focus should to teach children how to think differently about stressful events. In Dr. Seligman’s ABC model of behavior, Adversity is a normal experience that happens daily to most people. The Beliefs that we hold determine the Consequences, or how we behave in response to some unpleasant situation. We can change our response to stress by altering the way we think about the world.
Optimistic people have a different explanatory style for understanding good and bad events and children acquire such belief systems around the age of seven.
Three keys to a positive attitude:
- Permanence. People with a positive outlook view adversity as generally temporary. Negative people will frequently use terms like “never” and “always” to describe their situations. If a child has a bad day at school, you are more likely to hear “My teacher is always picking on me” from a pessimistic child.
- Pervasiveness. When confronted with failure in one part of your life, do you generalize that to all other areas? When a teen gets turned down by a girl for a date, does he think “no one likes me” or “this one girl doesn’t like me.” People who catastrophize tend to develop universal explanations for their misfortune whereas positive people look for a specific cause.
- Personalization. Positive people tend to view the causes of good and bad events as more internally determined, and thus within their control. After winning a basketball game, does your child refer to luck (pessimistic style since that is beyond her control) or the skill of the team (internal cause, and a positive explanatory style)?
Your belief system is in the key factor in influencing whether you have a positive or negative attitude. A pessimistic attitude results from a belief system that interprets adversity as being permanent, pervasive, and due to external factors. You can change your life by altering the way you think. You are not the helpless victim of your genes, parents, or life’s circumstances. Change the way you think, and positive behaviors and feelings will follow.