It’s Healthy to Look on the Bright Side of Life

My younger son got sick when he was eight years old. Not the regular kind of sick, but the kind of sick where Make-a-Wish plans a trip for you. As a result of this, he missed eight months of school. Our state provides six hours of home and hospital schooling a week, so luckily, he could keep up with his classmates. Never a huge fan of going to school, I remember early on (and I quoted on my Facebook page), “You know, Mom, if I wasn’t sick, this would be a dream come true for me.” By the end of those months, he did realize that not going to school could be pretty boring. But at the time, we decided to focus then on the fact that he was enjoying not going to school. There were a lot of bad things going on and it seemed beneficial to focus on the silver linings.

The pandemic effect

Social media combined with a pandemic seem to have brought out the worst critics of anyone who looks on the bright side. Jennifer Aniston faced criticism for posting a Christmas ornament that innocuously said “our first pandemic 2020” on her Instagram Stories, a fact upon which MSN gleefully reported on 27 December 2020. We aren’t talking about Kim Kardashian throwing a large 40th birthday party on a private island in Tahiti. We’re talking the same Jennifer Aniston who publicly advocating for mask-wearing. Meanwhile, USA Today ran an article on 03 December 2020 about holiday greeting cards in which Jim Hilt, a president at Shutterfly and head of their consumer business, noted that his design team had “noticed a trend toward humor dating back to spring.” So, is someone buying a pandemic ornament ignoring its effect on other people? Are folks sending funny greeting cards making light of hundreds of thousands of deaths?

The health benefits of positive thinking

Science literature is replete with studies showing the health benefits of optimism and positive thinking. A Harvard University article from May 2008, “Optimism and your health,” summarized the results of studies that showed that optimistic people are:

· Less likely to require hospitalization after coronary artery bypass surgery

· Less likely to suffer from high blood pressure

· Less likely to suffer from viral symptoms after researchers purposefully administered a respiratory virus

· More likely to continue living independently in old age.

Likewise, the Mayo Clinic published an article in January 2020 titled “Positive thinking: Stop negative self-talk to reduce stress.” Published just in time for a global pandemic, the article cites nine references touting the health benefits of optimism and positive thinking. The article lists the following benefits, which I’ve copied verbatim:

· Increased life span

· Lower rates of depression

· Lower levels of distress

· Greater resistance to the common cold

· Better psychological and physical well-being

· Better cardiovascular health and reduced risk of death from cardiovascular disease

· Better coping skills during hardships and times of stress

Finally, a WebMD feature story, “Give Your Body a Boost — With Laughter,” describes laughter’s beneficial effect on the body. It also adds, “Yet researchers aren’t sure if it’s actually the act of laughing that makes people feel better. A good sense of humor, a positive attitude, and the support of friends and family might play a role, too.” Hence, having a sense of humor and thinking positively can go hand-in-hand, helping people cope with life’s struggles.

Application to Real Life

What I learned from my son eight years ago is that positive thinking, “counting the silver linings,” “looking on the bright side,” or whatever euphemism you use, actually makes living through the bad times a lot more bearable.

Children instinctively know this. It’s not that they don’t experience disappointment, but they do laugh a lot. They also say simple but profound things. I’m pretty positive Jennifer Aniston and most people sending pandemic holiday cards know that the pandemic is serious, that a lot of people have died, and that it’s had an unimaginable strain on health care workers. But if you buy pandemic ornaments or send pandemic holiday cards, it also means you’re dealing with stress in a healthy way.

So don’t let other people make you feel bad if you happen to be one of us that looks for the bright sides in the train-wrecks of life. It turns out that you’re helping yourself, and most likely others. Remember, laughter is contagious.

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