Cultivating Optimism: Your Best Possible Self

March 27, 2008

Cultivating Optimism:  Your Best Possible Self 

 Competency # 25 Community                    Reference: Sonya Lyubomirsky, “The How of Happiness” Published 2008 

 Two weeks in a row on happiness?  It’s that time of year.   And I’ve just been fascinated with the intellectual integrity of this book.  It’s not opinion but credible research.  That each of us can change about 40% of our personal, internal environment, and thereby choose to be more fulfilled, happier, more connected to our loved ones and families, more tuned to our vocations is just an amazing life-altering idea.  You can get up and work on it for yourself.  

But to get good at it, we need to take our own initiative and work at it.  I’m introducing the new ideas, the essence if you will.   We review “best books” from time to time in this column.  After this, you have to check out the book from the library for yourself.  It’s worth the buy if you buy it.  As we referenced last week, Sonya Lyubomirsky is America’s leading social scientist on happiness and how to cultivate happiness for yourself. 

 She outlines 12 strategies or behaviors that people can choose to work on.  She offers a menu of choices, a toolbox that you can try on for the best fit.  The end of her book gives clusters of interlocking and supporting activities.  Cultivating optimism is one of her twelve strategies.  This is the key concrete method she has used in researching optimism, called Best Possible Self.  Laura King, a professor at University of Missouri-Columbia pioneered this research. 

 Imagine what you would like to be five years from now.  Write it down.  Think about how you would look, feel, function.  What would you be doing?  What would make you most proud?  Not a fantasy, but your most deeply felt goals, dreams, wishes.  Just 20 minutes of writing.  That’s it.  But do it for four days in a row. You have to work at it.  Like Martha Beck’sFour Day Win (which we reviewed last year) you need to stick with it for four days in a row to make it effective.  And writing it makes you organized. What happens is amazing.  Your happiness scores go up.  And stays up.  You will even report fewer ailments up to several months later.  This is more than a New Year’s resolution.  

The writing activity forces your brain to be structured, intentional, and organized.  By thinking through the “what” and “where” you want to be, and writing it down, you can’t help but think of strategies on how to get there, and start some of those strategies working today.  Research shows that those who set goals, have good attitudes about getting there, essentially setting in motion self-fulfilling prophecies.  Your best possible self!  Accomplished! 

 WWW:  What will work for me?  This is more food for my soul.  This is the season for spiritual journey and transformation.  Can you imagine yourself 5 years from now, really proud of what you’ve contributed?  Imagine someone throwing you a party in congratulations.  Maybe your best possible self is to be the one organizing the party, the one who celebrates the achievements of those around you.  It’s the road to happiness.  It’s transforming, a bright future in this season of transformation.  What a cool vision.

This column was written by Dr. John E. Whitcomb, MD, Brookfield Longevity, Brookfield WI, (262-784-5300)