Successfully Create Happiness Self-Help Advice

Written by Heather Kim

What is at the heart of optimism, confidence and the zest for adventure? Something called positive affect. Here's how to get it.

A positive temperament, the very thing that drives optimism, high energy and creativity, could also lead you to make a risky investment in the stock market or have an affair with your intern.

Optimism Advice
DVD: Choose Happiness with Stephen Covey
Be With Other People. It will boost your mood.
Eat fruits and vegetables and Exercise.
Daily mediation or relaxation reduces stress and pumps up mood.
The negative thoughts are the hardest to overcome. Be aware of your internal conversation.
But it's still a good thing.

The theory of positive and negative affects (or temperaments) holds that our long list of emotions and attitudes all stem from one of two basic or predominating moods: positive affect and negative affect.

A positive affect enables you to be resourceful and productive, while negative affect, which generates anger, despair and anxiety, keeps you stuck in a groove like a needle on a broken record, says Auke Tellegen, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Minnesota.

Positive affect is the source of the emotions and attitudes that help you advance in life, that give you the confidence and motivation to tackle the world, whether that is starting your own business or becoming president of the United States.

Bill Clinton is blessed with super-charged positive affect. When journalists ambushed him with surprise questions on impeachment or a committee's recommended disbarment, he may not have liked the interrogation, but he didn't lose his good cheer, energy and sociability.

Someone like Clinton has an optimism-derived confidence that sometimes makes him too comfortable with risk, Tellegen says. The same outlook that allowed Clinton to deflect probing questions from the press, invited the trouble of a probing intern.

But for the most part, the optimist does a better job than the pessimist in getting out of trouble, or in "compartmentalizing" major problems. Those dominated by negative affect magnify their mistakes and problems, and can't see beyond them, while those blessed with positive affect, says Tellegen, continue to enjoy themselves through it all by "magnifying the small pleasures in life."

Even when they lose their shirt in the market or their privacy in the press, people with positive temperaments remember what they still have, find joy in it and move forward.

Richard Nixon, for all his achievements, was seemingly dominated by his negative affect, says Tellegen. It was a source of anger, fear, depression, suspicion,even an enemies' list.

While the notion of too much of a good thing can apply to positive affect, Tellegen, who has done as many as a dozen studies on mood and brain activity, says it's generally something we want more of, not less.

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Most of us don't have to worry about being overly optimistic. It's the negative thoughts that are hardest to overcome. So how can we go about cultivating our positive affect?

Diet and exercise: Certainly controlling blood sugar, blood pressure and weight while boosting energy are all positive things for mood. As for exercise, there are enough studies showing the value of regular exercise in fighting depression. Take care of yourself and the world will look better.

Stress management: Living under the gun creates an internal environment of fear, mistrust and disharmony. Daily relaxation practices, be they meditation or prayer, not only reduce stress, but also pump up your mood, motivation and optimism.

Sociability: Tellegen says people who are prone to depression create a vicious circle: Withdrawal from social settings leads to depression and thus further withdrawal. Get out and mingle, whether or not you feel like it. Being sociable may change your mind-set all by itself. Also consider the benefits of sociable exercise.

Ambience: Bob Arnot, in his book The Biology of Success, talks about how good lighting, pleasant fragrances, music and even comfortable, functional office furnishings create a positive mood or at least coax a better mood on a daily basis. He also advocates keeping company with positive people.

Sizing up depression: Before you start figuring out the feng shui of your office, you should think hard about what is driving your internal turmoil, says Tellegen, adding, "You don't always know what the trick may be to turn your situation around." Not all of our mood problems can be solved by eight laps around the track. Sometimes we need the professional help of a therapist.

Challenging pursuits: If positive affect makes you seek activity, does incorporating activity in your life improve your mood? Of course, says Tellegen.

Learned optimism: So much of our thinking happens below the level of awareness. If we could hear our negative messages played back to us, we'd be shocked. Cognitive therapists tell us much of our thinking is merely habit. Adopt some new habits, and you'll cultivate a higher level of positive affect.

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