What we think can affect our happiness, as well as our health.
What we think can affect our happiness, as well as our health.

Don’t worry, be happy: then make your dreams happen

IF YOU happened to catch Bill Murray in the comedy Groundhog Day on multiple repeat a couple of weeks ago, you'll have learnt all about pessimism versus optimism.

Murray, stuck in the same day, again and again, works his way through all stages of grief - denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.

Along the way, he learns to cope with the sometime drudgery of human existence by changing not the day, but his attitude to his life. Within every moment, he finds a challenge; a way to become a better, happier person.

Would he, ultimately, achieve such a result as a pessimist? I would argue no and, increasingly, research is on my side, with thought leaders such as author and women's health specialist Dr Chistiane Northrup and the Institute of Biocognitive Psychology's Dr Mario Martinez arguing that what we think affects not only our happiness but our health.

Our beliefs, they say, are our biology. Hence the need to veer towards positive thoughts and beliefs, even in the face of adversity, because they have the greatest potential for healing.

Now, however, a new study shows that fantasising about a wonderful, happy future may make depressive symptoms worse.

According to researchers and psychologists Gabriele Oettingen, Doris Mayer and Sam Portnow, in Psychological Science, daydreaming about good things may set you up for failure.

"The modern era is marked by a push for ever-positive thinking, and the self-help market fuelled by a reliance on such positive thinking is a $9.6 billion industry that continues to grow," the researchers write. "Our findings raise questions of how costly this market may be for people's long-term wellbeing and for society as a whole."

The problem, however, is not talking the talk, but failing to walk the walk, they say. Daydreaming without positive action makes us feel even more depressed. For life and wellness to improve, we need to combine good thoughts and action, even if it is only little steps at a time.

A belief that we can lose weight, get fitter, or have better relationships, teamed with a commitment to walk for 30 minutes a day, or join a club where we meet new people, is what ultimately pays life-changing results.

In Groundhog Day the irascible narcissist that is Murray's TV weather man learns to play the piano, sculpt ice and quote Chekhov. His transformation from someone who is focused on his own dilemma and misery into someone who is actively involved in others' lives and making the world a better place is corny but instructive.

At its essence is the thought that my friend, Gestalt therapist Shirley Hughes, now in her 80s, continues to use for a happy, healthy life, even when circumstances are crappy.

Not "what could go wrong?", but "what could go right?".

Helen Hawkes is a life and wellness coach. Go to http://www.helenhawkes.org

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