What if you were to learn that you have the potential to change, choose, and decide your mood, challenging negative thought patterns, which tend to be heightened during a crisis of cancer?

Positive psychologist and author Sonja Lyubomirsky, PhD, studies happiness and its influence. Her findings reflect that 50% of happiness is in our genetic code, 10% is based on our life circumstances, but 40% is self-determined and lies within each of us. Dr Lyubomirsky also suggests that this 40% is underutilized, and we indeed have the ability to bring this 40% to its optimal level of functioning.1 Grasping the concept that we can guide our minds to a more positive perspective of our own volition is empowering!

A Novel Approach to Thinking

Positive psychology, while relatively new, is a burgeoning field. Degrees are now offered at reputable universities around the world. Martin Seligman, PhD, director of the University of Pennsylvania’s Positive Psychology Center, and considered the father of positive psychology, has written a plethora of books on the subject. His concepts include learned optimism — its tenet: joy can be cultivated and making an effort to choose a positive mindset has many benefits, both mentally and physically. Dr Seligman reports that pessimists are more likely to give up in the face of adversity and/or to suffer from depression. He invites them to learn to be optimists by thinking about their reactions to adversity in a new way. What can one learn from disappointment? Can it be something you grow and derive a benefit from?2 To see adversity as having the potential of being benefit-laden can help boost that 40% happiness factor of which Dr Lyubomirsky speaks. To explore the idea and engage in positive self-talk, ask yourself, “This may not have turned out as I would have liked, but what might I learn from this?” Finding meaning in difficult circumstances can enhance the potential for our happiness.

By understanding the work of Drs Seligman and Lyubomirsky we can begin to explore that our mood, potentially, lies greatly within our own minds. We may blame others, or our situation, for our emotional state, but we hold the key to boost our own mood and impact how we respond to a situation. With this potential, we still remain aware of the impact of genetics as well as life’s circumstances.

Strategies and Tips

What can nurses do to significantly improve the chance of a positive mood within their patients? Studies and books by Dr Seligman, Dr Lyubomirsky, and Lynn Johnson, PhD, are a good start. The Nun Study, a longitudinal study initially conducted by the University of Minnesota and which has returned to its home base, is an example of how immersing oneself in mind broadening activities can keep the brain young, active, and agile — and perhaps even ward off signs of dementia.3

So, becoming interested in life, its choices, even and in spite of its challenges, are helpful for a positive outlook, and an interesting life. What can nurses do to increase the chance of this happening with the patients and families they work with, as well as themselves? The answers are available to most of us.

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Take a class Today you can do this online from your own home if mobility is an issue. DOROT has its University Without Walls, which offers educational courses via telephone, and TED Talks provide a wealth of encouraging and interesting information on a wide range of subjects. If mobility is not an issue, a nearby art school, community college, or YMCA might have classes of interest, often times with tuition scholarships for cancer patients. An educational program or class can boost your mood, along with your self-confidence at a time when it’s sorely needed. According to studies at Central Connecticut State University, your brain chemistry changes and your learning speed increases when you take on a new task. When we learn, we grow, and we achieve! And even better, we feel good about it.4

Get your sleep Sleep is vital to our mental and physical care. Detach from your electronics an hour or two before you sleep, keep your room dark at night, remove the TV from your bedroom. Look into some of the effective sleep apps and devices.