Pushing Ahead During a Rough Patch

Much of the U.S. is now seeing the worst of winter.  Some parts of the country have experienced some of the most severe weather on record, especially in Texas, where much of the state lost power.  It’s hard to be looking for work when you have no electricity!

This begs the question about what you do when faced with what seems like insurmountable challenges.  You might be experiencing a sense of despair and gloom.  This could be due to the weather, but all of us have been impacted in some way by the isolation that the pandemic has necessitated.  And even though there are good signs on the horizon with vaccine distribution and the hopes of more federal aid, in the short-term things still look bad for many.   Keeping faith in your future prospects can be a day-to-day chore.

I’ve been exploring the field of positive psychology of late, even committing to taking a few graduate courses online (I’m taking some of my own advice: this is a good time to take a course!).

Here are a few things I’ve learn of late.  These ideas are based in science, which should provide some validation to incorporate them.  All of what I propose comes from Positive Psychology: The Science of Happiness and Flourishing, 3rd  by William C. Compton and Edward Hoffman (Sage 2020).

Exercise

There is considerable evidence that regular exercise is good for one’s well-being.  Studies show that physically fit adults have a greater sense of personal accomplishment and more self-efficacy – the belief our own capacities.  Other benefits include a better ability to fight off colds, greater self-acceptance, and more mindfulness.  Most importantly for job seekers, physical exercise tends to increase motivation.

Social Support

Many studies have shown the impact on our health of social support.  In one study it was noted that “connections between social relationships and health are some of the strongest and most consistent psychological correlates of health.”  Believing we are loved, or part of a community has a positive impact on psychological well-being.   The benefits of a having a “sympathetic ear” has also been documented.   So, give love and accept it right now.

Pets

Studies show that pets can lower blood pressure, reduce rates of angina, and help you live longer. Levels of oxytocin (sometimes call the “love” hormone produced in your brain) increases when you pet your dog (and increases in the dog, too!). Finally, pet owners seem more satisfied with their lives.

Humor

You might recall how the writer Norman Cousins believed he had cured himself from disease by watching funny movies and TV shows (what are you watching on Netflix?).  But studies have confirmed that laughter can increase S-IgA antibodies that help fight off infections and those who laugh regularly tend to score higher on measures of optimism, extraversion, and self-esteem.  Even thinking about laughing is said to have benefits!

Hope

Cultivating hope in one’s life is important.  Hope therapy is based on the notion that hope drives the emotions for well-being.   In the process, goals are clearer, pathways are identified, and energy and commitment are found to carry through  with a plan.   Maintaining and cultivating a sense of hope is important in difficult times.  The philosopher Thich Nhat Hanh has said that “Hope is important because it can make the present moment less difficult to bear. If we believe that tomorrow will be better, we can bear a hardship today.”

We are in trying times, and they affect us both societally and individually.  Recognizing the present challenges is a good step to then taking some meaningful measures to increase our well-being and nurture hope in the future.

—David J. Smith

David J. Smith (Fulbright Scholar, Estonia 2003-2004) is a career coach and the author of Peace Jobs: A Student’s Guide to Starting a Career Working for Peace (Information Age Publishing 2016). He is on the career advisory board of the Peace and Collaborative Development Network. David writes regularly on career issues at davidjsmithconsulting.com. He can reached at davidjsmith@davidjsmithconsulting.com.

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