Could optimism cure the common cold? Well, probably not, but it could possibly prevent you from getting one. According to the Mayo Clinic, some studies show that a positive attitude may provide numerous health benefits, such as an increased life span, lower rates of depression and distress, greater resistance to the common cold, better psychological and physical well-being, reduced risk of death from cardiovascular disease and better coping skills during hardships and stressful times.
All those benefits just from having a positive attitude? Yes, please!
An interesting thing about perspective is that it’s subjective. The glass of water is there, but whether it’s seen as half-full or half-empty is a matter of choice. That reminds me of a joke which illustrates this point:
Two women were catching up with each other.
“Nu, how’s your daughter and her new husband?”
“Oh, he’s such a prince. He takes her out to dinner, lets her shop as much as she wants, and treats her like a princess.”
“And how’s your son and his new wife?”
“Oy, what a situation. She makes him order her dinner, spends all his money shopping, and expects to be treated like royalty.”
See what’s going on here? The implication is that the couples are exhibiting identical behavior, but due to perspective, there are two starkly different attitudes.
Not surprisingly, Judaism encourages us to choose to see the good in things, and in people. This is called having an ayin tovah, literally, a “good eye.”
Having an ayin tovah doesn’t mean pretending that flaws aren’t there. It’s not encouraging us to stick our head in the sand. Having an ayin tovah is more like looking at the entirety of a person, to see the good as well as the things which could be improved upon. It’s normal for a person to have positive attributes alongside traits which may drive us up the wall. With an ayin tovah, I can see a person who has a fault, instead of seeing the person as the fault.
Approaches to Establishing an Ayin Tova
There are two approaches I use to cultivate an ayin tovah. The first is to reframe “bad” traits into a more positive format. Instead of viewing someone as careless, I could see them as laid-back or relaxed. Instead of seeing impulsiveness as a negative, I could see it as positive spontaneity, as someone being quick to act when action is needed, or when last-minute help is welcome. Stubborness could be reframed as dedication and determination.
The second approach I use, when reframing isn’t an option, is to look for the person’s strengths. Maybe someone is an incorrigible gossip, but is capable of doing tremendous acts of charity. Or maybe a person is flighty and unreliable, but is an exceptional listener. Instead of choosing to focus on the frustrating traits, I can concentrate on the positive, see the contributions this person is making to the world.
Having an ayin tovah also applies to oneself. For example, if I’m feeling frustrated with myself, I could view things negatively and focus on all the things I’m not doing right. This usually leads to a whole bunch of negative thinking: ”Wow, I’ve done it again. I’m never going to change, I’m just going to keep banging my head against this wall.” Obviously, these thoughts don’t lead to anything productive (except, perhaps, the consumption of chocolate).
However, if I am choosing to view things positively, my inner monologue will be totally different: ”Wow, I’ve done it again. But it wasn’t as bad this time, and it’s been a while since I made that same mistake. It’s frustrating to still have this behavior problem, but at least I can choose to change. And I did so many other good things today.” Much more productive, and there still may be some chocolate consumption. Win win.
Another motivation for having an ayin tovah is the whole do-unto-others concept. I could certainly improve various aspects of my behavior, and I would hope that people would not view me as defined by my less flattering moments. Therefore, I could extend others the same courtesy. Sure, it’s hard when a person has seriously offended me, but the benefits far outweigh the costs (no more common cold! Hello!)
Besides the potential physical benefits I mentioned before, there are social benefits as well. People who see the best in people tend to be people who people want to be around (say that three times fast). Happy people are just nice to spend time with. Seeing the positive in people helps boost self-confidence in others as well as ourselves. That creates more good and more positivity in the world.
Longer happier lives filled with positivity? Sign me up.