When It Comes to Happiness, Attitude Is Everything

Jan. 1, 2007 — -- New research suggests that people with positive attitudes are not only healthier, but they actually live longer than others.

A few small steps from Prevention magazine editor-in-chief Liz Vaccariello can help change your mental attitude and start off 2007 on a positive note.

Tip 1: Don't Try to Be Happy

To truly be happy, you have to stop trying. Pessimists usually get involved in activities to try to make themselves happy: They spend an inordinate amount of time and energy monitoring whether or not they are happy.

Instead of monitoring (or nagging) yourself about happiness, try engaging more in the activity at hand. Engage yourself fully in what you are doing. For example, instead of focusing on whether or not going to a see a concert is making you happy today, really engage in the concert. Focus on the music, the costumes, the crowd.

Pick activities that demand your full attention -- things like kick boxing, yoga or horseback riding. Even if you can stop hemming and hawing for one hour a day, it's a start in the right direction.

Tip 2: Imagine It's Really the End of the World

Pessimists have a problem with "catastrophizing" everything, turning a slight set-back into the worst possible scenario -- for example, thinking that simple cough turns into pneumonia.

To get beyond this, try exaggerating the doomsday scenarios until you are actually at the point of comic hilarity. Take a situation, like being a day late on a project, to the optimistic extreme and the pessimistic extreme. Picture yourself trying to trap squirrels for supper and living under a bridge as a result of your late project. Then picture your project makes your company $1 million and you're promoted to CEO.

After this exercise, if you write down the realistic outcome, you find yourself in control.

Tip 3: Fake It Until You Make It

The quickest way to feel like an optimist is to act like one. In research at Wake Forest University, scientists asked a group of 50 students to act like extroverts for 15 minutes in a group discussion even if they didn't want to. The more assertive and energetic the students acted happier than they were. This is the "fake it till you make it" approach.

Persistence is the key to optimism.