By SUSAN CALLAHAN, Associate Editor and Featured Columnist
There are many things in life over which we have no control. But one thing we always control --- how we react to what happens to us.
None of us gets an exemption from stress or bad luck. But some of us seem to have the capacity to stay upbeat, despite enduring the worst.
These happy souls have two things over those of use who may see life differently. One, they're happy. Two, they live ,longer. In fact, scientists have discovered something remarkable. Being upbeat actually protects your heart against heart attacks.
In 2013, scientists from John Hopkins studied 7400 people with a family history of cardiovascular disease. Those with a positive personality suffered half the number of heart attacks over a 45-year period compared with those who were not upbeat.
What makes a person upbeat? Scientists believe that our personalities are formed by genetics and by our experiences. A once-upbeat person who experiences a violent assault can become withdrawn and down beat. A person who experiences nothing but success has a better chance at being upbeat than someone who never catches a break.
But what is remarkable is that, from numerous studies, scientists have learned that our personality traits are very durable. You end up being what you are almost no matter what the circumstances.
The 5 Basic Personality Traits
There are, studies have concluded, 5 basic personality traits, known as the "Five Factor Model" of personality. The five personality types or traits are
Can You Change Your Personality to Become More Upbeat?
Now that you know the health benefits of being positive, can you change your personality to become more positive? You can change it to a degree, and that may be enough.
Being positive is reflected in how you react to things and how you feel about your reactions. This is something you can practice. You can, again to a degree, train yourself to get away from automatically seeing the glass half empty and move closer to seeing the glass half full.
Affirmations Can Change Your Personality
How we react to things, positively or negatively, is an expression of whether we feel our "self is under threat. Your sense of self feels under threat when your core values are threatened. You feel you are a smart person who deserves respect for being smart. Someone who calls you "stupid" has attacked your sense of self, and you will always defend your self. Your defense could be by devaluing the attacker. Your defense could be avoiding the attacker. But, some way or another, you will defend the values of your "self".
A 2014 study by scientists from Stanford University has found that affirmations can help you change how you react to situations.
They call affirmations the practice of writing down your core values. The exercise shows you, in many cases, that how you define your core values may be too narrow. Or you may be defining your core values too rigidly.
People who "self instruct" by using affirmations can train themselves to be more positive.
The important step is to write the affirmations down. This helps to move them into your long-term memory from your short-term, working memory. This helps to ingraine the positive ideas.
What affirmations help to keep you positive? Here some key ones:
1. I am a valuable, meaningful human being.
2. People like me because I am lovable.
3. Obstacles are opportunities to discover new aspects of myself.
4. I have an the ability to change and to improve.
5. By writing these affirmations, I am investing in my self-improvement and personal growth.
Sing and Listen to Music You Like to Stay Positive
Singing may have evolved as a way to manage our emotions. Songs of inspiration were shared and performed before setting off to war, before marrying and as we bury a loved one.
Other scientists believe that music and signing evolved as a way to cement the bond between mother and child, according to a 2013 study led by Thomas Chafer of Chemnitz University of Technology, Chemnitz, Germany.
Songs and music are powerful influences on your mood and, eventually, of personality. As a 2011 study from the UK's Heriot Watt University noted, music serves to further our identity, helps with positive and negative mood management, helps us to reminisce, acts as a diversion, an arousal, as a means of surveillance of the course of life, and social interaction.
Listen to a song, preferably, an upbeat song or music that you like, every single day.
Get Physically Active to Become More Upbeat and Resilient
While no studies have found that exercise changes personality several studies have found that regularly exercising improves your mood, making you feel more optimistic and energetic.
A 2007 study from Duke University found that regularly exercising lifts the mood of those with depression about as well as anti-depressant medication.
Exercising regularly triggers the release of serotonin, the feel-good hormone.
Get Some Sun to Stay Upbeat
Exposure to sunlight elevates your mood, a 2007 study from McGill University, Montréal found.
Make getting at least 15 to 30 minutes of sun a day a part of your mental hygiene routine.
Getting fresh air and sunshine can help to invigorate your thinking, correct negative self-talk, and pull you out of ruts.
Can't get sun. Try adding Vitamin D to your diet. Foods rich in Vitamin D include oily fish, nuts and seeds.
Your heart will thank you for it.
Add Tryptophan to Your Diet to Stay Agreeable and Upbeat
Tryptophan, an amino acid, is a precursor to serotonin. There is evidence that people who eat more tryptophan-rich foods tend to be more agreeable, relaxed and upbeat.
Scientists from the University of Austria found that countries with higher trytophan content in their diets are low in suicide and high in happiness. The study found " Developed nations ranking high in dietary tryptophan intake rank low in suicide rates, independent of national wealth, alcohol intake and happiness"
Trytophan is found in minute amounts in egg whites, seeds, nuts, lentils, fish (especially Atlantic cod), oat brand and in milk. Egg whites contain more trytophan than any other food.
Egg whites contain 1 gram of trytophan per 100 gram serving.