Learning that you or a loved one has a chronic illness is news you never want to hear. The knowledge of such information is often accompanied by feelings of fear, anger, and depression, which can cause debilitating, unnecessary stress. By understanding more about your condition and adopting a positive outlook on life, you can set the course for a better future.
During my time at Harvard University, I focused on positive psychology, the scientific study of what makes people thrive. Research in the field has found a strong connection between an individual's mindset, social support system and well-being. Recently I have been able to leverage the research behind positive psychology to help people living with multiple sclerosis. Through a program called Everyday Matters sponsored by the National MS Society and Genzyme, I am working to provide tools and resources related to positive psychology, wellness, work/education, relationships, family, and empowerment to the community. As a chronic, unpredictable and often disabling disease, the power of positivity is extremely important in managing MS.
In my book The Happiness Advantage, I've outlined the advice I've been giving to Everyday Matters participants into simple tips that can help those not only with a chronic disease such as MS, but everyone, in achieving a more empowered existence. You can see my TED talk to hear more about this research, which is described in brief below:
Send an Appreciative Email
When you open your inbox for the first time each day, take two minutes to send an email to someone in your social support network (family member, friend, teacher, coach, coworker) praising him/her or thanking that person. Studies from Harvard show this is so powerful that there is actually a correlation between happiness and social connection of 0.7, significantly higher than the correlation between smoking and cancer. Social connection can be as predictive of your longevity as high blood pressure, obesity and smoking.
Smiling Is Contagious
Through a study involving 11,000 hospital employees over six months, it was found that smiling, making eye contact and simply saying hello within 10 feet of another person increased the hospital's patient satisfaction, the doctors' job satisfaction, and the likelihood to refer the hospital to others. This is because of the way neurons function in our body, lighting up at the receipt of a friendly gesture, telling our brains to smile when someone smiles at us and spreading the joy all around.
Think of three things you are grateful for before you go to sleep for 21 days. We did a study on this, and at the end of the study, participants were significantly more optimistic, and further, the change wasn't temporary -- the positive mindset lasted even six months later. An added effect: Increasing your optimism can improve your productive energy by 31 percent!
Never Give Up On the Good Times
Take two minutes every day to write down every detail you can remember about one positive experience that occurred over the past 24 hours. As our brains can't tell much difference between visualization and actual experience, by rehashing a high point in the day you double the effect of that positive experience. Overall, this leads to greater life satisfaction and meaning. Studies have shown that women who wrote about positive experiences were 40 percent more likely to live to age 94 than their negative peers.
By adding 15 minutes of a fun, mindful activity to your day, like gardening, going on a walk or working out, your brain learns to believe that behaviors matter -- the core of optimism. In fact, in one study, researchers took people suffering from depressions and had half take an antidepressant and half do light aerobic exercise in order to train their brain to believe that their behavior matters. While there were equal drops in depression for the first few months, the group that added a habit of exercise had significantly lower chance of relapse back into depression 10 months later. Habits like the "Fun 15" help your brain record a victory, which creates a "cascade of success," where individuals start creating a constellation of positive habits around them, decreasing the likelihood for depression and despair.
Take two minutes each day to stop what you're doing and watch your breath go in and out. This exercise trains your brain to do one thing at a time. Research suggests that a multitasking brain has a harder time falling asleep, is more stressed, and has lower energy. By taking time to relax the brain has a chance to undo the negative effects of trying to manage everything at once.
As part of Everyday Matters, we're following five people through personal text, video and photo journals as they learn to apply these tips in their everyday lives. To see how they are doing, comment on their journeys, to offer your own gratitude, or to access resources about positive psychology you can visit http://www.nationalmssociety.org/everyday-matters/index.aspx.
Happiness is a choice, even in the midst of a chronic illness. By taking small steps, large goals can be accomplished, enhancing the outlook and overall well-being of those living with or affected by a life-altering disease.
Shawn Achor is the founder of Good Think, Inc. and the author of The Happiness Advantage. In 2006, he was Head Teaching Fellow for "Positive Psychology," the most popular course at Harvard at the time. He holds a Masters from Harvard Divinity School and has spoken in 45 countries to a wide variety of audiences, including bankers on Wall Street, students in Dubai, and CEOs in Zimbabwe. Watch Shawn Achor’s TEDxBloomington video on TED.com
, The Happy Secret to Better Work
Many months ago in my weekly email series I wrote one entitled: "Only One White Shirt." It was the story of Bonnie Whitten, who was my training instructor on the ticket counter, many years ago at Midway Airport in Chicago for Capital Airlines.
I didn't have enough money to buy uniform shirts, and every evening for at least two weeks Bonnie would take my one white shirt home and wash and iron it and bring it back the next morning.
We stayed in touch all through the years and the highlight was in 2004 when I was speaking in Indianapolis and we brought her to the luncheon from the assisted living facility where she resided. I introduced her and told the "one white shirt story" and she received a standing ovation........the highlight of her year she said on her Christmas Card.
Since then, when it is an appropriate topic with an audience, I show the photo of Bonnie and me in 2004 and tell the story. It is a great example of someone reaching out (Bonnie) to a youngster (me) getting a start in business.
Then in June of 2006, I had just finished speaking in Las Vegas and had told the Bonnie Whitten story. When I got to the airport an hour later, I checked my voice mails. There was one from Bonnie's brother Bill, saying Bonnie had died that day, at age 82, within thirty minutes before I talked about her.
What a great lady. She had an amazing impact on my life with her friendship and kindness. It is the "little" things in life that make an impact and leave a lasting legacy. Thank you Bonnie and I know you will rest in peace, so well deserved. God Bless You.
Who is the "Bonnie" in your life? Remember to thank him/her for the "little" things.
Howard Putnam speaks on leadership, change, transformation, customer service, teams and ethics. He is the former CEO of Southwest Airlines and the first CEO to take a major airline, Braniff International, into, through and out of Chapter 11, getting it flying again in less than two years.
This article was originally included in Howard Putnam's Leadership eSeries. You can sign up to receive his weekly thoughts on leadership by going to: http://www.howardputnam.com/eseries.asp
Times are tough, but not here!
Iran has tough times. Iraq and Afghanistan have had tough times. People who have to walk through land mines to get to their destinations are having tough times. Many parts of Africa have tough times. People who live in fear of murder, rape, oppression, disease, catastrophe all have tough times. Millions of people even today have never used a telephone, a kitchen appliance, a modern bathroom, or even seen a television. For those people a drought isn't a reason to limit watering your lawn or washing your car. It is a death threat! Access to a doctor is unheard of and most illnesses are fatal. Times are tough for them.
Times are tough, but not now!
The events of September 11, 2001 were horrific and tragic. At that time, things were tough, really tough. During the great depression millions of people were forced from their homes, unable to afford to raise their own children, willing to do anything to survive. Times were tough during the depression. During the Revolutionary War and the Civil War people were forced to fight without proper clothing, adequate arms, sufficient food, decent transportation or lodging, and they had to fight friends and family members on occasion. Times were tough. In World War II food was rationed, hosiery was recycled, home gardens were the main source of produce; gasoline, cloth, virtually everything was limited so as to support the war efforts. For a few years into the war we didn't even know if we could win. Everyone was drafted for some form of war support. People were losing sons and daughters in every city in the country and news was slow and unreliable. Times were tough. In the prison camps of WWII hundreds of thousands of people were imprisoned, starved, forced to do slave labor and killed for amusement. Times were worse than tough.
Times are tough, but not for you and me!
Families are cramming into cargo holds of ships, hiding in the back of trucks, crawling under barbed wire fences, sleeping in ditches and running from killers just to get into the United States in hope of a better life. Times are tough for them, but they are willing to risk it. In many parts of the world, people are battling AIDS, Cancer, and countless other diseases without the help of medicine or physicians. They often lose limbs and eyesight, yet they somehow go on doing life's daily chores. Their children die in childbirth and hope is unknown to them, yet somehow they endure. Times are tough, for them. Drugs are controlling the emotions, thoughts and bodies of many people every day. They started using as an amusement or an escape and ended up enslaved and tormented. Times are tough for them.
Hatred and fear dominate much of the world at any given time. They always have. But there is abundant good taking place as well.
Millions of people are receiving the best healthcare in history and most of them don't pay for all of it themselves. Insurance companies have made excellent healthcare accessible to the average person, not just the privileged few. More "miracle" drugs and treatments for life's medical challenges exist than ever before. They are expensive by some measures but consider the alternative. We can fly anywhere on earth usually within one day. We fly in comfort with air conditioning, padded seats and even personal meal service. Though hundreds of thousands of planes are airborne at any given time, air travel remains the safest of all forms of mass transportation. We have automobiles to go where and when we wish. We all agree to the same rules of the road and it is safe to drive almost everywhere in America. We live in luxurious homes, take opulent vacations (a vacation or holiday is unheard of in many societies), wear fine clothes, use reliable appliances, and dine out often. We find time and money to sit in huge theaters and watch amazing movies while eating and drinking what we wish. Spoiled? Yes, I'd say we are.
What are your big complaints these days?
Slow email? Website was down all morning? Mail was late today?
Business is off? Orders are well below where they were last year?
Had to wait in line at the airport and take off your shoes for security?
Stuck in traffic and missed an appointment?
Economic news (that you learned of from your personal newspaper or TV or cell phone on the same day that it occurred) is not what you had hoped for?
Your investments aren't appreciating for now? ("Investments!???" What a luxury!).
The housekeeper forgot to vacuum the guest bedroom?
Your new running shoes are wearing a blister on your toe?
You had to wait four hours for the telephone company to install DSL service?
A power outage caused you to lose the computer files you were working on?
Your kids are being picked on at school?
Your neighbor's dogs just won't stop barking every time you go outside?
The credit card company made an error on your bill again?
You had to park two blocks away from the store where you get your choice of fresh vegetables?
The clerk gave you a latte instead of a mocha frappucino?
They ran out of bran muffins and you had to eat a blueberry muffin instead?
The restaurant lost your reservation and you had to eat in the bar area?
The contractor hasn't finished installing your new cabinets yet?
Your mate just won't stop leaving the house in a mess?
Your friend left you off the invitation list for their party?
You had to get up before sunrise to drive your partner to the airport?
The DVD you rented had a glitch and you missed the last half of the movie?
What are we whining about?!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Let's keep things in perspective folks. Times are tough but not for us, not here and not now. Besides when times do get tough we find out that we are tougher. And think of all the energy and strength we have saved while living this life of luxury. We have reserves we have never tapped.
Thank you God for our abundant blessings. Please keep us grateful. Make us ever mindful of the needs of others and the huge opportunities we have for doing good in the world. Let us not only count our blessings, but also share them often.
Times are good! Thank you, thank you, and thank you. Now you'll have to excuse me there is much work to be done.
Jim Cathcart is a member of the Speaker Hall of Fame, author of Relationship Selling and dozens of other books, audio, and video training systems. He speaks on Intelligent Motivation, Relationship Selling, and Self-Leadership.