My old doctor’s office handed out a brochure called 7 Tips for Healthy Living. One of those tips was “Keep a positive mental outlook.”
I like that they linked physical and emotional health, but I’m not sure they got the details quite right.
We’ve all heard of people who bring joy to everyone around them with their sunny outlook, yet succumb to cancer in the prime of their lives.
And there’s also the cliche about mean old people who are “too ornery to die.” They’re not positive at all, but they’re healthy as horses.
On both sides of the positivity scale, there are too many examples to call these exceptions.
But let’s say we want to practice having a positive mental outlook … just in case it could have a real impact on our health.
What does it look like?
I guess it means when you miss the bus, instead of cursing and stamping your feet, you smile and say, “I’m sure another one will be along in 30 short minutes!”
Or maybe even, “Fantastic! This gives me a chance to test the hypothesis that being cold makes you stronger.'”
Just one question: How does lying to yourself like that make you healthier?
Correlation vs. Causation
While there may be a link between a positive outlook and good health, nobody knows for sure that one causes the other.
Maybe a positive disposition is carried on the same gene as longevity.
Or maybe being healthy makes you feel positive, not the other way around.
So should we try to be as upbeat as possible in order to improve our health? Not if logic matters.
Just because something sounds simple and is easy to say (e.g., “Happy people live longer”) doesn’t mean it’s true. While research is important, the analysis and significance of results is often misinterpreted by the media. Not to mention the researchers themselves in some cases.
I happen to buy the evidence suggesting a link between a [genuine] positive outlook and living longer.
But for any emotional disposition, including a positive one, to be genuine, it must be organic-like and spontaneous-ish. You can’t build a positive outlook in a workshop or bake it in an oven. Saying, wishing, or wanting it doesn’t make it so.
But it’s okay. Just be you.
Because there’s plenty of research indicating an actual causal relationship between attempting to be something other than what you are, and physiological STRESS.
That means trying to be positive when you’re not feeling that way may be very bad for you. We know this with more certainty than we know why happy people live longer.
Maybe my doctor’s brochure should have read, “Let yourself have the feelings you have, not just the ones you wish you had. You’re less likely to die from stress.”
I like that better. It’s easier to do than ignoring upsets and disappointments.
Darn. I should have memorized the other six tips.