Heard any good news lately? With the release last week of preliminary findings of the Reuters/University of Michigan index showing consumer confidence at a 26-year low in April, it's lowest point since 1982, oil prices at all time highs, and even Federal Reserve Chairmen, Ben Bernanke telling Capital Hill that, "It now appears likely that gross domestic product (GDP) will not grow much, if at all over the first half of 2008, and, could even contract slightly", it's hard to find something positive about the economy. And, along with a flagging economy, this has been another year of a long costly and tragic war with an incredible toll of casualties and personal losses. Add this to the unusually extreme weather conditions, with flooding, tornadoes, hurricanes, drought, and the increasing reports of general violence and road rage, well, it can feel like there is not much reason to wake up in the morning.
It struck me as no surprise when I read in yesterday's newspaper that the most widely prescribed drugs in America are not for pain, cholesterol management, heartburn or hypertension, but instead for depression. According to the article, doctors last year in the U.S. wrote 232.7 million prescriptions for antidepressants, more that for any other therapeutic class of medications. This represents an increase of 25 million prescriptions since 2003 and translates into an estimated 30 million patients in the United States who spent $12 billion on anti-depressants in 2007.
Although the article goes on to site a number of studies which indicate that anti-depressants, while highly useful in cases of severe clinical depression, are far less effective for mild to moderate depression, even if we set aside the debate about inappropriate prescribing and over-prescribing, one thing is still very clear. A lot of people are feeling bad and they want to feel better. The trick is how to do it, despite the daily bombardment of negative information.
How can you build and retain your sense of optimism, both personally, and in your critical role as a leader and role model for others? Here are a few suggestions:
1. Go on a news "diet." No, I'm not suggesting that you bury your head in the sand, or stay out of touch with the world. At the same time, there is no reason why you have to repeatedly subject yourself to the same (usually bad) news throughout the day, Set limits on your exposure, change the station or the channel, set your computer and other electronic devices so that they don't present the news in your face every time you check in. If you don't already, consider not watching or not listening to the evening news last thing before you go to bed in the evening, or first thing in the morning. These are the times when your brain is most likely to integrate it into your dreams and your subconscious mind and to set the tone for the day.
2. Take the "long" view. Remember the economy, the weather, and many day-to- day problems tend to cycle. Remind yourself that this is expected and temporary and look for the learning and possible opportunities in the current situation
3. Get "smart" about the science. Note the references below to "Your Brain on Optimism" and "Learned Optimism". Read up on what happens in your brain when you think optimistic thoughts, learn about the concept of "attribution style", the dramatic advantages in health, productivity and performance that optimism creates in your life, and identify what specific steps you can take to change in this direction.
4. Seek out the positive. Offset the negative with positive. Look for and take specific note of the beauty around you, the kindness and integrity you see in others, the wonders of nature, music, art, stunning design. Play more, with puppies and kids is you can find them, with friends, co-workers, and partners. Laugh and savor all the positive aspects of your daily life. Practice gratitude.
5. Stay connected with your purpose. Make sure you regularly check-in with your most basic reason for being here and that every day you can find ways that your life is aligned with your values and purpose.. If this is not clear to you now, do some introspection, prayer, journaling or meditation, and get help if you need it, for not having this alignment is one of the greatest sources of distress and stress in our lives.
Remember, how you respond to or interpret any situation or news has everything to do with how you feel and what kind of energy you send out to others. Your actions and internal dialog are largely within you control, and with practice, you can get better at mastering the art of optimism and at modeling it for others.
What is one action you can take today to move you toward optimism?
Favorite related quotes:
An optimist if the human personification of spring. Susan J. Bissonette
Setting an example is not the main means for influencing another, it is the only way. Albert Einstein.