What the World Needs Now

What’s in short supply in these depressing times? And don’t say “toilet paper.” My answer is “positivity.” If you think that sounds out of sync with reality, please hear me out.

At this extraordinary juncture, feeling overwhelmed by gloom and anxiety is understandable.  Our lives have been upended. We’re worried about health risks to ourselves and others.  Economically, things are tough and sure to get tougher. And we can’t turn to our usual activities for comfort or distraction—can’t even get a hug from a friend. 

The other pitfall we face is lethargy. Confined to home and unmoored from our routines, we can find our days sliding away in a blur of binge-watching, snacking, and boredom.  

But we don’t have to give in to mental states that only leave us feeling sadder, unhealthier, and more helpless. There’s nothing to gain from that. While the world spins crazily out of control, our attitudes are the one thing still in our command. What’s more, being decisive about how we will react and what we will do can give us a deep reservoir of personal power and energy.      

Resilience in Action
Having a positive attitude doesn’t mean we’re in denial; nor does it equate with an assumption that everything will work out fine in the end. Rather, positivity is an expression of confidence that whatever comes, we can and will deal with it, emerging stronger because of what we’ve been through. Think of it as resilience in action.   

Positivity also means finding the good in the challenges we face. Sheltering in place and social distancing aren’t exactly fun. Still, times like these offer opportunities we might not have or notice ordinarily.   

While the world spins crazily out of control, our attitudes are the one thing still in our command.

What we’re experiencing is a large-scale reset of our normal habits and way of life. That can give us the space to create something different. With our usual routines and habits disrupted, we can consciously create new ones. For instance, we can decide to spend half an hour a day doing something physically active at home, or devote more time to reading, or start learning a new language or skill. 

This crisis can also help us nourish our relationships and open our hearts. To beat the coronavirus, we have to work together as a community. We are also urgently driven to think about others, and not just ourselves. It’s hugely uplifting to see how many ways people are connecting with and caring about others: offering to buy groceries for high-risk neighbors, volunteering or donating to emergency programs, reaching out to shut-ins, and picking up the phone to check in with friends near and far. 

We’ve also learned how quickly we can change our ways of operating when we must. That knowledge is more powerful than any New Year’s resolution, and we can call on it whenever we want to reach for positive change in the future.

Based in Science
While the message of positivity may sound like greeting-card fodder, it is actually grounded in science. It was Dr. Hans Selye, the father of medical research on stress, who concluded after years of study that, “Adopting the right attitude can convert a negative stress into a positive one.” 

Plenty of researchers since have found that having a positive outlook extends life span and improves health. They have documented tangible health benefits including lower blood pressure, reduced heart disease, a healthier blood sugar profile, and better weight control. It turns out that your attitude about aging has a lot to do with how successfully you age.

Science has also learned how much our behaviors and attitudes can influence those around us, even if we’re not on Instagram. Statistically speaking, people are more likely to exercise, eat healthy and control their weight if their friends do those things. Our behaviors and attitudes ripple through our families, friends and social networks in much the same way. 

So while we continue to battle this global health menace for as long as it takes, just remember: positivity is contagious, too.