7 Ways to Enjoy the "Positive Effect"

Written by Paul Wolf

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.


Advice on Optimism

Exercise will boost your mood.
Manage stress through meditation, prayer or yoga.
Be sociable and be with positive people.
Sometimes you need to see a therapist.  

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 used to ambush 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, also 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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