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Opinion

Thinking positively may lead to better and longer life

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September 26, 2014

Metaphors are wonderful. They explain the world in a way that is different than it is, yet, somehow, they make this complex life more comprehensible.

Take for instance the saying about seeing the glass as half full. Really, we are just looking at water in a cup but, guess what, it means more than that. It is a metaphor! The level of the water is symbolic of our view on life: optimist or pessimist. Strange how it all works, eh?

Personally, I am a strong optimist (tempered, unfortunately, by a level of logic. Sorry, self; chances are you’re not going to win the lottery).

Frankly, when listening to others complain about their lives I am glad that I see the world the way I do. A lot of bad things happen to us and to those we love, almost on a daily basis. It is hard not to get bogged down by what life hands us. But during the cloudy days, it is nice to still see the sunlight.

“Why should we care about being cheerful?” asks the pessimist. “Life will not get better just because of a change in attitude. Optimism can distort our view of reality, leaving us naïve.”

To a degree, this anonymous pessimist is correct. Optimism can make us seem a bit naïve. But frankly, as long as you temper your optimistic attitude with some pragmatism, it is far better to think positively rather than negatively.

Let’s look at the scientific facts. The Mayo Clinic, the number one overall hospital in the U.S., says that positive thinking can increase life spans, lower stress levels, increase resistance to the common cold and give better coping skills during hard times. There are several other benefits of positive thinking but these are the most interesting ones. While it is not exactly known how your attitude can affect you that much, it is clear that optimism does improve your health and quality of life.

Another way to look at it is to think about the people in your own life. I’m sure you know people who always seem to have something to complain about. These types of people can be awesome and great friends, but it can be tiring to listen to. Question is, does complaining make them happier? There is a measure of comfort due to sharing one’s thoughts and possibly gaining another’s sympathy but does the complainer really gain anything? My theory is that if instead of having something to complain about every day they talked about something good that happened, they would be a happier individual in general.

Now onto the real life examples. Some people I know went to Africa for a trip. My acquaintances were astonished; the African villagers lived in structures we might politely call ‘quaint’ and fresh; clean water was scarce. Although there were some signs of modern technology, the village could have looked about the same a hundred or two years ago.

Despite the fact that although the villagers did not seem to have much to western eyes, they were happier than most. They laughed and sang as my acquaintances came into the village, talking happily with them about life. How could these African villagers be so joyous with so little?

My acquaintances believed it was due to the villagers’ sense of gratitude. Life may not be perfect but there is always something to be grateful for.

Try this in your own life and see if, after a time, the attitude change becomes permanent. Got clothes on your back? Be grateful. Not breathing in polluted air? Breathe deep. Going to school today? Smile as the teacher starts that 75 minute lecture on photosynthesis. Fall down some stairs? Man, you got down them fast! Know that even though at times you feel alone, there is someone out there that loves you. As one redheaded orphan once said, “The sun will come up tomorrow.”

Life isn’t going to always be glamorous but it is worth living. When life turns gray and melancholy metaphors start raining down, remember to “choose to be optimistic. It feels better.”

Rachel Molitor is a student at UW-River Falls.