Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Healing Power of Positivity

Teri Edgell, the Director of Member Services and Smiles for Our Health Co-op, doesn't know this (at least, not until now), but I've quietly decided to make her my mentor in positivity.  As Teri shared in the recent interview she and I conducted with Co-op member Tom Tindall, she tends to be a positive person most of the time. I heartily agree.  How does she do it?  One can speculate as to whether a positive attitude is simply a matter of disposition or whether it's a choice.  In my experience, it seems to be a combination of the two.

Growing up, I was fascinated by my father's remarkable ability to remain positive -- or at least find his way to that frame of mind even under some of the most challenging situations.  Dad had been paralyzed when he was four while being "blanket tossed" by his older brothers.  Much to everyone's horror, on one particular toss they failed to catch him on the way down.  The result? He spent the next fifteen years rehabilitating himself so that he could walk, albeit with a very awkward gate (he would literally have to thrust his legs forward with each step).  Through a rather phenomenal use of will power, however, by the time my father finished high school he had rehabilitated himself to the point that his barely noticeable limp was not detectable when he enlisted in the U.S. Army to serve during World War II.

Without a positive attitude, my dad told me once, he would have remained paralyzed or significantly crippled. "In our town," he shared. "No one really understood what to do for me.  Because of the potential embarrassment to my brothers, everyone was simply told that I had infantile paralysis."

The gift of that challenging episode in his life was that he learned that maintaining hope and a generosity of spirit toward self and others is a choice (and sometimes a very difficult choice, at that).  My father also learned there is an additional benefit to maintaining an optimistic mindset.  Our body simply functions better when we have an upbeat attitude.

His own experience was more recently born out in a study that I found intriguing due to my own background in film and television. UCLA (and who would think of this other than a university located near the heart of Hollywood) conducted a field study several years ago that surprisingly demonstrated that actors could influence the state of their immune system simply by portraying different emotional states. Earlier studies performed at Duke University and the University of Chicago also provided powerful evidence suggesting that a positive frame of mind strongly influences our overall health and susceptibility to disease.

So how does one maintain a positive state of mind? The first step is to start listening to what you say -- to others and to yourself.  To be clear, maintaining a positive state of mind does not mean that we adopt a "Pollyanna" approach to life or that we pretend that everything is okay, even when it's not. Instead, a positive attitude begins by looking for what's right or working well in a given situation and then following that approach with an assessment as to what might not be working. To be effective, this second half of the equation must be done with an eye toward a solution (as opposed to a fixation on the problem).

One truly empowering technique that I was taught for dealing with challenging life circumstances invites me to ask myself three questions:  a) What else can I do? b) Who else do I need to involve to assist me? c) What will I choose to do about those aspects that are beyond my control?"

Utilizing that method often means that, in order for us to maintain a healthy attitude, we need to find someone to partner with us -- a "running buddy" as some call it.  In such a relationship -- whether it be with a friend, spouse, or colleague -- we invite one another to keep ourselves on the right track by catching each other doing it right and by encouraging one another to get back on the path when we stray.

For me, another valuable resource in generating a good attitude, is maintaining a good diet.  In addition, I supplement my diet with 5-HTP from Our Health Co-opIt's a simple way for me to support my body in maintaining an effective, natural balance of serotonin -- one of the body's own mood balancers.

Now, just in case what I've written here has not enticed you into wanting to look on the bright side, then do yourself and those you love a huge favor and watch this video -- it's one of the more beautiful clips I've seen in a long time.

If you're one of those people who seem to be naturally positive, I would invite you to be patient with those who find this approach to life a little more challenging.  Perhaps by encouraging such individuals and giving them authentic, positive feedback when they do look on the bright side, you might be helping them find a happier state of mind and better physical health.

Peace, Love, and Good Health to you,
Chris Harding
Chief Community Officer
Our Health Co-op, Inc.

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