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When I was a teenager in the 80's, my mom used to drive me crazy with her silver-lining disposition. Whenever we had a disagreement (AKA: I got in trouble), she always bounced back too quickly. My sister and I would complain that she expected us to immediately get over it without giving us a chance to brood and sulk as long as we wanted to.

Well, wouldn’t you know it – I have become my mother. I can’t stand negativity.

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I feel kinda bad for all of the people close to me who just want to be real, only to have me hit back with some turn-that-frown-upside-down retort. To my BFF: I know it’s annoying that I always give your husband the benefit of the doubt when you just need to vent about his bad laundry habits. I can’t help it. I’m hard wired that way.

What about people who are hard wired to be pessimistic? Let’s chat a sec about what pessimism and happiness really are, which camp you fall into, and how you can find more overall happiness in life, even if you are a Debbie Downer.

"Research has shown that those with a tendency toward pessimism suffer more ailments and live shorter lives."

Thing is, pessimism isn’t exactly the opposite of happiness. True, you can either have an overall optimistic outlook or a generally pessimistic view of life. But, optimism doesn’t necessarily mean a happy life. An article in Psychology Today associates happiness with life satisfaction, appreciation, moments of pleasure, joy, interest, pride, and infrequent negative emotions such as sadness and anger. Hmm. Getting mad, sad, and feeling bad are not indicators of being a pessimist.

The dictionary (Merriam-Webster) says that pessimism is an inclination to emphasize adverse aspects, conditions, and possibilities or to expect the worst possible outcome, i.e. glass half empty. But, here’s a question. If you never consider the worst possible outcome, how can you avoid bad stuff? Will you wear a seat belt? What if you get a ticket cuz you didn’t click it? If you have a disposition toward that level of optimism, you’ll find yourself experiencing an awful lot of bad luck. This could contribute to an overall feeling of unhappiness with life.

On the flip side, tho, research has shown that those with a tendency toward pessimism suffer more ailments and live shorter lives… which, in itself, is a total bummer. Since optimism and pessimism sometimes display similar behavior, how can you tell which side you mostly lean toward? Ask yourself these questions. Answer 1) Yes, I totally do that or 2) Nope, not usually for each question below:

  • When something good happens, do you generally view it as a fluke rather than a result of your actions?
  • Do you expect bad news without entertaining a potentially good outcome?
  • Do you blame others or the universe for the bad things that happen to you?
  • Are you cynical when something good happens to someone else, assuming they got it because of some unjustified means?
  • Are your endeavors marked by a lack of persistence?
  • Do you have trouble letting go of wrongs done to you?

If you answered a lot of 1’s, you may be a pessimist. But, don’t get down on yo'self (there’s a silver lining). Here are some practical things you can do to tilt the other way:

  • Take a minute to ponder what led to a success or a good thing. Really try to notice your part in making that happen. Maybe you can make it happen again!
  • Prepare for the worst, but expect the best. When people tell me not to get my hopes up, I ignore that crap. There's no avoiding disappointment if it doesn’t work out, so thinking negatively is not going to help. Might as well visualize the outcome I want. If it doesn’t happen, I know I can deal.
  • The universe doesn’t hate you. Everyone is not out to get you. You’re important, but you’re not the center of the negative universe. Put yourself in perspective. Do something randomly nice for someone else. It’ll take your mind off of you.
  • Instead of poo-pooing someone else’s success, ask them how they achieved it and try to put those practices into your own routine.
  • Don’t be a Gary Giverupper. Fake it till you make it. Don’t let an obstacle paralyze you into thinking it’s a sign from the universe that you should stop trying.
  • Holding onto grudges makes you kind of a control freak. Knock it off. Have the tough talk and get over it (sorry, I’m sounding like a Bossy Betty).

Another thing you might try is counting your blessings, so to speak. Everybody’s talking about this lately. They say to keep a gratitude journal and write down at least three things you are grateful for each day. If that’s not your style, try writing one thing that makes you happy at the top of your to-do list each morning. Express it in prayer. Post a daily positive quote on social media that illustrates what you are thankful for. My mom used to ask each of us to share something good about the day at the dinner table. However you do it, choose to acknowledge positive things in your life every day.

Eighty's rocker wearing choose life t-shirt.

If you are naturally more pessimistic due to your hard wiring, you can turn that frown upside down with a little tweaking of your personality. It can be hard to overturn traits that are so intrinsically a part of us, but it can be done. And the effort is worth it. Hey, living longer means you can enjoy more deliciously addictive bagelwiches and 80’s music at Uptown Bagel Co.

Peace out.

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