The month was July, and I was flying home with my sister. The occasion was our youngest sibling’s 21st and the theme was après ski. I had my ‘80s ski suit ready, and so did my sister, until she did not. It failed to arrive in time. “Well, you might have to go without a costume,” I said, before she quipped, “Not with that attitude!” And by the time we landed, she had located the last ‘80s jumpsuit in our very small town and won best dressed the following night. (It was self-appointed.) No story better defines us. She, the eternal optimist. I, the realist/pessimist. If I have a problem, I throw it her way and she fixes it, much like Henry Ford fixed the issue of the affordable car. There wasn’t a solution, so he created one in Ford Motors, and now most of us are driving pretty cheap vehicles. My sister may not know it yet, but something Ford once said is the philosophy underpinning her life: Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re right. The way you approach situations – with conviction or defeat – more often than not, defines the outcome. So why do we so often choose the latter? Why does “can’t” take priority over “can”?
Optimism is a funny thing. Some people have it, and some people don’t. Our genes and environment do define it, but one factor in our lives has more power than both of those forces combined. It is the work of gratitude, a key opening the lock to happiness in our lives. Shawn Achor is a man who knows all about happiness. Carving out a career in positive psychology (read: happiness), he now teaches The Happiness Course at Harvard which is, of course, the most popular course on campus. Gratitude is part of Happiness Hygiene, Achor says, much like brushing our teeth is part of our personal hygiene. And it all comes down to two minutes, each day, for 21 days. A decade of positive psychology research reveals “we can actually take the genes and someone’s environment and we can raise their levels of happiness up if we can get them to do something as simple as a two minute habit for 21 days.”
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