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Echoes and Mirrors» Blog Archive » Smile!

Smile!

Bright Sided:

Who would be churlish or disaffected enough to challenge these happy features of the American personality? Take the business of positive “affect,” which refers to the mood we display to others through our smiles, our greetings, our professions of confidence and optimism. Scientists have found that the mere act of smiling can generate positive feelings within us, at least if the smile is not forced. In addition, good feelings, as expressed through our words and smiles, seem to be contagious: “Smile and the world smiles with you.” Surely the world would be a better, happier place if we all greeted one another warmly and stopped to coax smiles from babies — if only through the well-known social psychological mechanism of “mood contagion.” Recent studies show that happy feelings flit easily through social networks, so that one person’s good fortune can brighten the day even for only distantly connected others.

Furthermore, psychologists today agree that positive feelings like gratitude, contentment, and self-confidence can actually lengthen our lives and improve our health. Some of these claims are exaggerated, as we shall see, though positive feelings hardly need to be justified, like exercise or vitamin supplements, as part of a healthy lifestyle. People who report having positive feelings are more likely to participate in a rich social life, and vice versa, and social connectedness turns out to be an important defense against depression, which is a known risk factor for many physical illnesses. At the risk of redundancy or even tautology, we can say that on many levels, individual and social, it is good to be “positive,” certainly better than being withdrawn, aggrieved, or chronically sad.

Oh, I think this is just another step in this direction:

The same, it turns out, is true of daily affirmations. A recent study published in Psychological Science finds that for people with low self esteem saying positive self-affirmations actually lowered their self-esteem. For people with high self-esteem at baseline, affirmations has only a slightly positive effect. Seem counter-intuitive at first, but researchers Wood, Lee, and Perunovic believe that for people with low self-esteem the self-affirmation just makes them consider how untrue the contrived statement is, lowering their self-esteem.

Being positive and being determined are two completely different things. Optimism can lead to massive disappointment (not that it necessarily will, but it can). Being determined to succeed is far more realistic, because you still understand the chance of failure, accept it and can make contingency plans.

The concise thesis of the whole shebang:

With the mythbusting powers for which she is acclaimed, Ehrenreich exposes the downside of America’s penchant for positive thinking: On a personal level, it leads to self-blame and a morbid preoccupation with stamping out negative thoughts. On a national level, it’s brought us an era of irrational optimism resulting in disaster. This is Ehrenreich at her provocative best — poking holes in conventional wisdom and faux science, and ending with a call for existential clarity and courage.

Instead of always assuming everything will be fantastic, be realistic about it and try your damnedest to succeed. Failing that, cut bait. I’ve pretty much always felt this way, though and find it somewhat alarming that most people don’t. Then again, as an atheist, I don’t have the big guy upstairs looking out for my best interests either. I take the good with the bad and am reasonably sure than I can succeed if I try, but I always leave myself an out (poker skills are useful in real life, you know).

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