A Different Kind of Exercise: Positive Affect

All kinds of studies have shown that people with a positive disposition or approach to life  (a positive affect) are generally healthier than people who have a negative disposition or approach (a negative affect). People who are persistently depressed, angry, or stressed are more prone to transient illnesses like the common cold and to chronic and even terminal illnesses like asthma and heart disease. Since my campaign is about losing weight, why are we talking about positive affect? Well, my campaign is only peripherally about losing weight – it’s mostly about being strong and healthy again. Good health – that’s the ultimate goal.

As I’ve shared with you multiple times, I have been treated for depression since my early 20s … so for over half my life now. I take medicine daily to help my endocrine system function correctly in its production and use of the neurotransmitters that are involved in my moods and their stabilization. Like many people with clinical depression and other mental illnesses, from time to time I decide that I don’t really need those medications and I stop taking them. Yeah, well. It turns out that I do need them – every. single. time. I try this bone-headed stunt. Because of my decades-long experience with depression, there are a number of popular sayings that make me roll my eyes:

  • Don’t worry, be happy.
  • Happiness is a choice.
  • Don’t sweat the small stuff and it’s all small stuff.
  • For every minute you are angry, you lose 60 seconds of happiness.

Ugh. Bitch, please.

I’m sure that you can add some pithy sayings of your own to that list, particularly if you, too, struggle with depression. As ridiculously simplistic and reductionist as I think those statements are, barring major disorders, I do think that we have some control over our attitudes. There are things we can actively do to be more positive. We are not helpless.

exersiscehappiness.jpgThis week I’ve read several articles addressing happiness and the habits of healthy people. One of those habits is an exercise that I am inserting into this 4th 21-day cycle of my campaign. During November, I often see people make a daily post about something for which they are thankful. This exercise will be similar; but, every day, I will choose one thing that was my favorite thing of that day – whether it’s an event, a feeling, an experience, a song – whatever. I’m going to end my day thinking of one good thing from the day I just finished. I’ll share those things on my Facebook page and I would truly love it if you guys would share your One Things there, too.

I once had a manager who constantly exhorted us to “control the controllables.” (Mike Feldman, I’m looking at you.) That directive was invaluable to me when prioritizing and reprioritizing actions to meet our delivery deadlines. I’m sure Mike would be surprised to hear that now, years later, I still use his advice on nearly a daily basis to address stresses from finances to yard work. In this exercise, there are two controllables. The first is my medication, which I am now in the habit of taking right after I make my bed in the morning. The second is my focus, which I often neglect. I can choose to focus on the person who cut me off in traffic or I can choose to focus on hearing Bohemian Rhapsody and Are You Gonna Go My Way back-to-back on the radio. I can choose to resent having to mow my lawn or be thankful that I have a lawn and that I am physically able to mow it now. I can choose to go to bed exasperated or I can choose to enjoy the feeling of my cat Link snuggling at my feet as I drift off.

12106878_1179470198735299_4750950273050207031_nPositive affect “muscles” atrophy easily, particularly when bombarded by the sludge pumped out by main stream media, social media trolls, and general jerks. This cycle, join me in working for better health by exercising our positive affects.

Abraham Lincoln is credited with saying that people “are usually about as happy as they make up their minds to be.” I still don’t believe that we can be happy just because we chose to, but I do believe that we can be happier.

Let’s make up our minds to be that.

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