Are you an optimist or a pessimist? Do you wake up in the morning with a feeling of excitement or dread? Do you dwell more on your blessings or your misfortunes? Do you view the struggles of life as opportunities to learn and grow, or evidence that you are destined to fail? Do you believe you can be the mother you want to be, or that you will always be as you have been?
I admit it. Sometimes I can be a real pessimist. I see the glass as half empty, I worry about “ruining” my children, I stew about everything both in and out of my control, I see potentially fun experiences with my children as stressful or annoying, and I convince myself I’m a bad mother because of x, y, and z.
It’s mind boggling, really. Everything in my life should lead me to be wildly optimistic. I have good health, an education, financial stability, strong faith, and a supportive circle of friends and family. So why, oh why, do I still find myself battling the blues?
I’m sure it’s partly genetic. After decades of numerous studies, scientists now agree that happiness (which I’m loosely equating with optimism) is about 50% genetic, the other 50% being determined by, well, your determination. As Abraham Lincoln once said, “Most people are as happy as they make up their minds to be.”
But if you have genetic “issues” like me, you can’t just think yourself happy–especially if you’ve spent a lifetime nursing your negative, pessimistic genes. It will take work to turn your inner Eeyore into a cockeyed optimist, but passing on a positive world view to your children is certainly worth the effort, not to mention the personal benefits of less stress and more joy in your own life.
There are several behaviors attached to the scientific recipe for happiness and a positive outlook on life. Here are some of the most common:
Avoiding over thinking and social comparisons
Practicing acts of kindness
Nurturing social relationships
Developing strategies for coping
Learning to forgive
Savoring life’s joys
Committing to your goals
Practicing religion and spirituality
Taking care of your body through personal care
That’s a lot to chew on, so I’ll just take a bite from the bottom of the list and focus on taking care of your body through personal care. Why? Because in my personal experience it’s the base line for all the other behaviors. If I’m tired from being up all night with a sick child, depressed from my post-Halloween sugar crash, or feeling sluggish and undisciplined from a lack of exercise, I can’t even think about coping strategies let alone practicing acts of kindness.
Speaking specifically to mothers, how can you cultivate more optimism in your life by taking care of yourself physically? With the holidays just around the corner, this can be an especially daunting time to do just that. Staying up late to shop without the kids or wrap presents, indulging in too much depression-inducing sugar, and trading in regular exercise for the “project” that is Christmas can all lead to feelings of negativity and gloom–the exact opposite of what we’re going for! Give yourself an early present this year and commit to good sleep, healthy eating, and regular exercise throughout the holiday season.
I’ll take it even one step further. I noticed after moving from Los Angeles to Utah last year that the winter had a huge affect on my mood and thereby my optimism. I can only assume I was suffering from SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder), so this year I’m already gearing up to deal with the sun going down. Along with sleep, diet, and exercise, I’ll be using light therapy, aromatherapy, music therapy, plenty of vitamin D–whatever it takes to make sure I stay on top of my mood and maintain the level of optimism I need to tackle the daily demands of motherhood.
Whether you’re a natural born optimist or a struggling pessimist like myself, cultivating optimism through taking care of yourself physically isn’t rocket science, but it can be the difference between enduring motherhood and enjoying it.
QUESTION: Are you a natural born optimist or a struggling pessimist?
CHALLENGE: Choose one healthy habit to stick to through the holidays.
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