By Monica Spoelstra Metz
Back when I was pregnant with my son Alonzo, I had some routine tests conducted and realized I didn’t know my blood type. When I asked my doctor about it, he looked at my chart and told me I was B positive.
“B positive,” I said, my laugh a little bitterer than intended. “Like, ‘be positive.’ I love the irony.”
No one, especially at that stage in my life, would ever have accused me of being a natural-born optimist. I was still licking my wounds after back-to-back layoffs. My first marriage had ended in divorce. And when I was fortunate enough to meet and marry my now-husband Peter, we struggled through infertility, then miscarriages. I was in a new job that didn’t make me happy, yet I was a workaholic. It had been years since I’d been in the gym, and without the stress relief that comes from even simple exercise, I was constantly worried about the state of my unborn child. Was the baby okay? Would this pregnancy work out? Was it really possible we’d be parents after multiple false starts?
B positive. Really?
Pessimistic tendencies aside, a small but persistent part of my personality had always been lobbying for more optimism. Fortunately, this part of me grew much bolder, much stronger, the day Alonzo was born.
Over the years, positive psychology—and the effects a positive outlook can have on our health, relationships, and work—has been of great interest to me, and it has led me to some fascinating work by researchers such as the Positive Psychology faculty at University of Pennsylvania and The Happiness Advantage author Shawn Achor.
One positive attitude tool has especially resonated with me recently: gratitude exercises.
The concept isn’t exactly new to me—I owned one of those Simple Abundance journals in the ‘90s. But gratitude exercises recently popped up again in both a client project as well as a nutrition school lecture, so I took this as a sign to check them out again.
A basic gratitude exercise works like this: before you go to bed, write down three good things that happened that day. That’s it. Easy, right?
Why would you do this?
Martin Seligman and his team at Penn have shown that exercises like these, even if performed for only a week, can increase happiness levels and life satisfaction. Isn’t it comforting to know positivity can be an acquired skill—that it’s not something you’re born with and can’t change?
And if that’s not enough motivation for you, consider this: new research in psychology and neuroscience shows that we become more successful when we are happier and more positive, not the other way around. In The Happiness Advantage, Shawn Achor highlights a study that showed doctors put in a positive mood before making a diagnosis exercised nearly three times more intelligence and creativity than doctors in a neutral state, and they made diagnoses nineteen percent faster.
As Achor says, “our brains are literally hardwired to perform their best not when they are negative or even neutral, but when they are positive.” By the way, if you want to find out more on how positivity can provide real-life business results, check out this article on Achor’s work.
So in light of my return to gratitude exercises, I’m adding a “Happies” series to my blog, where I’ll post about things that have inspired me or simply made me happy. Who knows? Maybe you’ll be inspired to do the same in your own blogs, social media channels, journals—or in your thoughts as you drift into sleep each night.
This Week’s Happies Are…
#1: My Brave Alonzo
Alonzo started kindergarten and attended his second soccer practice. I am loving the fact that he’s loving all of these new experiences and greets new opportunities with a sense of adventure and an eager wonder. In contrast, I was a really shy kid and wasn’t much of an athlete until later in life, so it’s been amazing to see him running and kicking and laughing and adoring every second of it.
#2: Oven and Shaker
All of my healthy habits—the daily workouts, the green smoothies, the celery-and-kale juices, the raw soups—are pretty much in service to my once-a-month pilgrimage to Oven and Shaker for pizza and the kale salad. I figure if I live healthy most of the time, I’ve earned an outrageous splurge once or twice a month. If you’re in Portland and eat meat, the salame pizza is divine.
#3: A Martini and Crazy 8s
What a week! Alonzo started kindergarten, I had some pressing work deadlines, and I stayed up too late studying and then reading The Dog Stars. One of my favorite Friday rituals is an ice-cold martini, which I often enjoy at NE Portland’s Lucca. This week, we brought Alonzo’s deck of Crazy 8s cards and had a blast while waiting for our food. I love the huge smile he has when he gets to lay down an 8—so much so that I stacked the deck in his favor when he wasn’t looking.
#4: Fresh Fruit Tart
I just really like this picture from the New York Times Style Magazine. Vergennes Laundry (VT) tarts are made-to-order, without any of that silly sugar glaze. As Tina Fey’s Liz Lemon (from NBC’s 30 Rock) says, “I want to go to there.”
#5: Safe Travels
Peter went to central Oregon for a shoot this weekend, and I have to say I was a little freaked out when he texted this photo from the site. I’m crazy afraid of heights, so I can’t even imagine hanging out in this kind of setting. In fact, my palms are getting sweaty just writing about it. Needless to say, I was very grateful to have him back safe and sound.
Those are some of my Happies for the week—what are yours? Please share!
Monica Spoelstra Metz is obsessed with the ways we can all try to be a little healthier. She believes nutritious food, fitness, and other good habits don’t have to be a luxury, even amid our busy and budget-conscious lives. She is a writer and holistic health coach, working with frazzled and working moms to explore healthy food and lifestyle habits that help them lose weight and gain energy, nourish their families, and strike a satisfying life-work balance. She started her career in sports marketing, working with a number of high-profile sports organizations including the Portland Trail Blazers, Anaheim Ducks, Nike, and the PGA of America. A recovered workaholic once accustomed to living on break room coffee, food court take-out, and an annual trip to the gym, Monica understands the challenges of navigating a busy professional and personal life. She is based in Portland, OR, and you can find out more about her on her website, Facebook, and Twitter.