We often assume that positive events will lift a person’s attitude, while negative incidents will bring people down. However, that’s not always true.
Dr. Ronnie Janoff-Bulman and her associates at the University of Massachusetts studied how both positive and negative life events affect a person’s capacity to feel happiness and fulfillment.
The research team compared the well-being of people who had won the lottery with people who had suffered a sudden paralysis.
The lottery winners were initially joyful following their financial windfall. But in the long run, they were no happier than the accident victims. The lottery winners no longer enjoyed everyday pleasures because they were not as thrilling as winning a lottery.
By contrast, many of the paralysis victims learned to adjust to their disabilities, and were eventually better able to appreciate everyday accomplishments and joys.
Believe it or not, too much optimism can create problems. Healthy optimists are realistic — they can see the positive elements in their lives, but remain aware of their limitations.
If we maintain a proper perspective on the positive aspects of our failures and negative experiences, we can cope better with anxiety and stress.
Investigators at the University of California, San Francisco, had volunteers give speeches several times to an unreceptive audience. During the first speeches, the volunteers experienced discomfort and increases in the stress hormone cortisol.
As they repeated their speeches, the volunteers who had recovered from an earlier life calamity found it easier to adjust to the discomfort, and their cortisol levels no longer spiked.
Having been able to cope with previous negative events gave them the insight that their public speaking anxiety would pass as well.
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