Life & Beauty Weekly: Life & Love

By Catherine Ryan for Life & Beauty Weekly


As you probably know firsthand, women — particularly mothers — tend to be especially empathetic to those around us. It’s a wonderful trait that comes in handy when, say, your child’s feelings are hurt or your spouse has to vent about his job. You listen, show your concern and do your best to help cheer them up.

But that sensitivity to others can also make you more susceptible to negativity. Studies show that women, on average, are more empathetic than men, says Louisa Jewell, president of the Canadian Positive Psychology Association. “Empathy itself, however, is multi-dimensional and includes both an emotional component and a cognitive component,” says Jewell. “While I might be able to take the perspective of another person, whether I suffer personal distress from their behaviour depends on my own ability to regulate my emotions.”

When someone else’s bad mood rubs off on you, it can create a trickle-down effect of negativity. Soon, everyone from your bank teller to your kids could catch the bad-mood bug. While you may not always be able to control the outcome of situations, you do have a choice about how you react to it, says Jewell. Focusing on your actions is one of the best ways to fend off a bad mood.

To stay happy and pay your attitude forward in a positive way, put these tricks into practice:

1. Kill them with kindness
Remember the lesson you teach your kids about saying something nice or nothing at all? It’s time to turn that concept on its head. Instead of keeping silent the next time you encounter a sourpuss, dish out a compliment. Compliment your boss’s haircut or acknowledge the hard work of a surly PTA mom. A kind comment could do more to shield you from a dark cloud than keeping quiet. It may even help clear the air for the other person too.

2. Do unto others
“Performing acts of kindness has been scientifically proven to increase positive emotions both in the short and long term,” says Jewell. “Acts of kindness performed on those we interact with the most — like friends, family and co-workers — can have even greater effects because we are strengthening social bonds that ultimately increase our own happiness and well-being.”

3. Fake it until you make it
When you’re cranky, the last thing you want to do is smile. But smiling can actually help cement a sunny outlook. In one study, says Jewell, participants who had Botox injections that prevented them from frowning found it more difficult to maintain negative emotions and therefore experienced more positive moods over time. “Smiling can improve your mood in the moment because facial feedback to the brain is actually one way our brain evaluates our mood,” she says.

5. Skip the morning news
Your sensitivity to others isn’t limited to those around you. Simply reading the day’s depressing headlines can leave you down in the dumps. Solution: If you have a ritual of checking the morning news, replace it with a restorative activity, such as a stretching DVD, walking the dog or reading to your kids. “Research has shown that reducing your exposure to unnecessary negative information like cat fights on reality TV shows or coverage of house fires in North Tonawanda does, over time, improve your positivity ratio or the ratio of positive emotions to negative emotions you experience in the day,” says Jewell.

6. Play in the dirt
Gardening can be a terrific way to prevent and even shake off a bad mood. Studies show exercise alone helps increase feelings of happiness and well-being, plus working in the soil has also been shown to bolster positivity. Scientists at the University of Bristol discovered that contact with microorganisms in the soil stimulates production of serotonin, the feel-good chemical in your brain. So, ditch the gloves and get your hands dirty!

7. See the glass as half full
In most families, or circle of friends, there’s often one person who can’t see the silver lining in anything. To keep a Debbie Downer from bumming you out, acknowledge her point, then offer an alternative, more positive point of view. For example, if your friend complains of slow service at a restaurant, agree that it could be speedier but also mention how grateful you are to catch up. Forcing yourself to look on the bright side keeps you from focusing on the negative aspects of any situation. Who knows, you may even influence your friend to be more optimistic.

8. Keep things in perspective
When life throws you the big curveballs, such as money issues or health concerns, resolve to look at the whole picture and keep things in perspective. When bad thoughts creep in, make an effort to think as rationally about your situation as possible. Ask yourself: Will cancelling your yearly vacation scar your kids for life? No, it won’t. (They may even be relieved.) In fact, Jewell says research on optimism shows that positively reframing bad events is an excellent way of decreasing stress. “Stress is a contributing factor for cardiovascular disease,” says Jewell. “Women who stress less will not only be happier, but healthier, too.”

The most important thing to remember is that it is possible to hold onto a sunny mood no matter what life throws at you. Now that’s something to smile about!

Catherine Ryan
is a freelance writer and editor who writes on health, nutrition, beauty and green living for such magazines as
Self, Ode and
Parents. She is a frequent contributor to
Life & Beauty Weekly.

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