YHC is focused this year on stress, and how to teach our youth to deal with it positively and proactively.  I recently had the opportunity to hear author Shawn Achor speak at a National Multiple Sclerosis Society meeting in Dallas.  While addressing a ballroom full of people living with MS, working on curing MS, and raising money to fund the mission, could have been challenging given that the topic was happiness and positive psychology, all those present came away emboldened, both conceptually and behaviorally.

Both Achor’s presentation and his book provide a remarkable summary of his research about happiness, and how we can achieve a definitively more positive experience to living. He identifies three predictors of long term success:  belief that behavior matters, a strong social support network, and viewing stress as a challenge rather than a threat.  His research shows that happiness and positivity are precursors to good health, and that it’s possible to change the pattern through which we view the world by focusing on rational optimism. And, according to Achor’s research, the greatest predictor of happiness and success during challenging times is a strong social support network.

It is Achor’s belief that by focusing on five behavioral changes for 21 days consecutively, one can raise their level of optimism.  The five changes are:

  1. Start each morning with an outward expression of three new things for which you are grateful that happened over the last 24 hours
  2. Keep a journal
  3. Exercise regularly
  4. Practice meditation
  5. Commit to doing random acts of kindness.

Small changes ripple and build to help create a lasting, outward lens of rational optimism.  This will not stop reality, but allows one to perceive problems as local and temporary.  This process drives to strengthen the possibility of a cascade of success.   Four conclusions he underscores are:

  1. Happiness is a choice
  2. Happiness spreads
  3. Happiness is a work ethic that needs to be cultivated
  4. Happiness is an advantage.

As we move into what I call “The Season of Gratitude”, I would encourage that time be spent reflecting on how each of us can personally achieve a life lived with rational optimism and one that is meaning based.  How we live also teaches all those around us this lesson.