In the wake of the suicides of celebrity fashion designer Kate Spade and celebrated chef, author and TV personality Anthony Bourdain, the latter being the subject of my last week’s column, I’ve been thinking a lot about depression and its polar opposite, happiness.
Certainly, like snowflakes if you’re to believe all our lab coats who study the minute components with meticulous detail of the nature that surrounds us, no two people are exactly alike. Not only do we differ physically (although similarities can be striking since there are those doppelgangers out there) but we also are different on the inside.
I thought about that a lot when leaving an excellent presentation in April at Old Barn Out Back, a presentation put on by the Allen County Suicide Prevention Coalition, a group that has been working for the past eight years on strategies to reduce the number of suicides in Allen County. As many of you, I have lost two individuals I valued as friends to this inexplicable societal blight, so this critical issue has certainly manifested itself far closer to where we live than the world occupied by the rich and famous.
When it comes to our outlook on life, there, of course, are the glass-half-full types and the glass-half-empty types. As for the latter, I once saw a poster that pretty much sums up how some view life. It read, “Pessimism: Every dark cloud has a silver lining, but lightning kills hundreds each year who are trying to find it.”
As for the former, well, they’ll keep searching for those silver linings regardless of how many lightning strikes there are reported. I think all of us have known those singular types too. How inspiring I have found those who faced daunting medical adversity, especially cancer-related, and their dogged determination to continue to fight with smiles seemingly permanently affixed for the rest of the world to see.
Recently, I saw an inspirational sign in a business establishment in Columbus that said, “Happy people don’t have the best of everything. They make the best of everything.”
As for why people differ in their philosophical approaches to life and the problems life often presents, several authors have opined.
Jacob Wachob, who co-founded and writes for the website MindBodyGreen.com, says, “Children are born optimists and over the course of time, life happens. Circumstances change and cynicism sets in, but deep down, most of us want to get back to the optimism of youth.”
Dave Mezzapelle, author of a book entitled “Contagious Optimism,” studied optimistic people for five years and says, “Some people are naturally more optimistic. I believe, however, that somebody who is negative or pessimistic can control it and improve upon it.”
Both authors feel to change a mindset to optimism, one needs to practice positivity daily by doing whatever is necessary to demonstrate the following traits.
Optimists express gratitude readily and see the hardships life imposes more as opportunities to show resilience with the payoff being the joy of knowing they did what many thought they couldn’t.
Additionally, optimists donate time and energy to worthy causes and express an interest in others’ pursuits, especially when their efforts allow them to overcome adversity.
Optimists also realize associating with pessimists drains energy, so they seek out other optimists, not those who are critical and constantly complain. As Mezzapelle puts it, “What others say is a reflection of their own reality, not yours.”
Optimists also, and this is a hard one, I think, forgive others far more easily than pessimists by forgiving past sleights so that they don’t ruin the present. While it’s been said women are the biggest holders of grudges, I don’t think that’s necessarily true. I have known guys who can’t seem to let go of hard feelings that are decades old. For me, gender has little to do with this one.
Finally both authors feel it’s vital to do one thing as often during the day as possible to reinforce optimism, and that is smile. Even in brief doses, smiling releases serotonin, the hormone that contributes heavily to one’s sense of well being.
While some who age and begin to think about their own deaths can grow increasingly pessimistic, there are others like Lou Gehrig, who, with the full realization that the remainder of his life’s road was so very short, still told a packed house at Yankee Stadium that he considered himself the luckiest man on the face of the earth.
So, how about it, folks? I know it can be tough out there, but let’s all try demonstrating the above traits and, of course, let’s start by releasing as much of that serotonin as we can.
John Grindrod is a regular columnist for The Lima News, a freelance writer and editor and the author of two books. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.