are you an optimist or pessimist?“A person who has good thoughts cannot ever be ugly. You can have a wonky nose and a crooked mouth and a double chin and stick-out teeth, but if you have good thoughts it will shine out of your face like sunbeams and you will always look lovely.”  ~ Roald Dahl

Imagine a beautiful painting hanging on your bedroom wall. Every morning, just upon waking, you meditate on this inspiring work of art. You soon find that this daily practice energizes you and affects your entire mindset throughout the day, encouraging you to look for the beauty in life.

One morning, however, as you’re carrying out your morning ritual, you happen to notice a few of the artist’s mistakes. There is clearly a blob of yellow where there should be blue, you think. And the brush strokes are obvious and messy in the bottom left-hand corner. At first, you don’t think much of it, but over time, the more you focus on them, the more these errors begin to bother you. And not only do they bother you, they begin to irritate you.

Now each morning as you begin your day, instead of enjoying the painting’s beauty, you concentrate and stress over the errors. When you lie in bed at night, your mind is once again drawn to the mistakes. Now — because of your focus — your once-inspiring painting has lost its magic.

While this may seem like a ridiculous thing to do with an beautiful work of art, many of us are guilty of this exact behavior when it comes to real life. Instead of enjoying the magnificent overall picture, we focus on our mistakes, dilemmas, the negative situations or the negative people.

Study after study has shown that we can’t get away with thinking thoughts that are negative, angry or depressing for too long without it taking a terrible toll on our emotional and physical health. On the other hand, when we make a practice of being optimistic, we begin to glow with inner warmth, health and vitality.

In a recent study, published in the journal Health Behavior and Policy Review, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign found that people with the most optimistic mindsets were twice as likely to be in ideal cardiovascular health.

In another study, Danish researchers found that heart disease patients who had a positive outlook on life lived longer than those with a negative mindset. In fact the positive-minded patients were 42 percent less likely to die over a five-year period compared to the negative-minded patients. The findings are published in the journal Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes.

There are scores of other studies confirming the link between optimism and good health, with findings ranging from optimistic moms delivering healthier babies to optimistic HIV patients being less affected by the virus.

But what about Grumpy Dwarf, Grouchy Smurf and Eeyore? Don’t we need realists to keep us aware of the bad things in life? To keep things balanced? Actually, no — because staying positive doesn’t mean turning a blind eye to the bad moments in life. It simply means staying hopeful during the bad times and knowing that good can always come from bad, no matter the situation. It means choosing to remain grateful.

Even Grouchy Smurf would have led a far happier life had he made this simple change. After all, hope is a necessary component of happiness. So choose to focus on the beautiful painting of life — not just the parts that upset you — and let it light up your mind and body from the inside.

Optimist image available from Shutterstock