Finding Silver Linings: Four Steps to Achieving a Healthy and Balanced Life

by Diane Berenbaum

Most of us tend to dwell on things that have gone wrong in our lives. We may think about them so often that they affect our ability to focus or function. And, thinking about them too much may even lead us to believe that our lives are filled with disappointments, mishaps and misfortunes.  

According to psychologist Martin Seligman, who is known as "the father of positive psychology,” there are two ways or “habits” of thinking and reacting to situations. And, they can lead to two very different consequences:  optimism and pessimism. He found that pessimists tend to give up more easily, feel depressed more often, and have poorer health than optimists.  


According to other scientific studies:

  • Pessimists are more likely than optimists to suffer from a number of health issues. According to the Women’s Health Initiative, they are more likely to smoke, be sedentary or overweight and have diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and/or depressive symptoms.  

  • Women who communicated high levels of cynical hostility were 16 percent more likely to die over the 8 years of the study.

  • A study published in Brain, Behavior and Immunity found that higher levels of pessimismwere linked to unfavorable immune system changes.

Benefits of Finding the Silver Linings*

Looking on the bright side and focusing on the silver linings of a negative experience has many benefits:

  • Research shows that optimism is linked to lower rates of depression, a better ability to cope with stress and greater relationship satisfaction. And, optimists generally do better in school, work, and extracurricular activities. They also often perform better than predicted on aptitude tests, are more likely to win elections when they run for office, have better overall health. And, they may even live longer. 

  • Harvard University School of Public Health researchers reviewed data from more than 200 studies on this subject. They found that a positive psychological outlook appears to reduce the risk of heart attacks, strokes and other cardiovascular events. And, specifically, optimism, life satisfaction and happiness are associated with a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, regardless of age, socioeconomic status, body weight and smoking history.

  • Researchers at Duke University Medical Center tracked the psychological and physical health of hospitalized heart disease patients over a 15-year period. They discovered that individuals who were optimistic about their diagnosis, treatment and recovery were more likely to be alive after 15 years than individuals with lower expectations. The researchers noted that the level of optimism displayed by patients did not have to be extreme to have an effect.  

“That”, says Seligman, “is the incredible power of positive thinking.”

However, some people can be excessively optimistic and develop a Pollyanna attitude. In other words, they are overly confident that good things will always happen to them and they’ll find something good in everything.  Another possible detrimental outcome would be thinking that they’re immune to anything negative in the present or future. As a result, they may not take care of themselves or care about anyone else.


Four Steps to Practice Finding the Silver Linings

The Greater Good in Action organization (Science-Based Practices for a Meaningful Life) was referenced in an earlier issue of our newsletter, with a focus on choosing positivity. In this article, the results of their study have been included as relates specifically to finding the silver lining. Here are their four steps to practice doing just that:

  1. List five things that make you feel like your life is enjoyable, enriching, and/or worthwhile at this moment. They can be general (e.g., good health, close friends) or more specific (e.g., dancing with Julia at La Bamba, dinner with my roommates at Panera). This step can help you shift into a positive state of mind about life in general.

  2. Think about the most recent time when something didn’t go your way, or when you felt frustrated, irritated, or upset.

  3. Briefly describe the situation, in a few sentences.

  4. List three things that can help you see the bright side of any situation.  

Here’s an example:  You get stuck in traffic and you’re late for work.  As a result, you miss an important meeting. Here are three ways you can look on the bright side of this situation:

  1. "I may have been stuck, but I didn’t get into an accident.”

  2. “One of my associates will be in that meeting, and he will take notes for me.”

  3. ”I got to listen to my favorite music on the radio.”

The Greater Good in Action organization recommends you practice that exercise 10 minutes a day for three weeks. Participants who did so reported:

  • Greater engagement in life

  • Less dysfunctional thinking

  • Fewer depressive symptoms

  • Greater motivation to go after their goals

Winston Churchill once said, “A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.” 

What do you see? Opportunities or difficulties?

And, what can you do to help ensure you find and focus on the silver linings?  

*Source:  Myriam Mongrain. Ph.D, York University
Diane Berenbaum is a long-time contributor and former editor of the MAGIC Service Newsletter. She has more than twenty-five years of experience as a consultant, coach, and facilitator. Diane is the co-author of How to Talk to Customers: Create a Great Impression Every Time with MAGIC® .
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