The other day, I was sitting in Haute Cakes Caffe chowing down on a carnitas breakfast burrito, when an older woman sitting next to me said something that took me by surprise.
“You have a really great outlook,” she said, as I motored up to grab a to-go box from the front counter. She noticed my smile and how friendly I was with people at the restaurant. All I could say in reply was, “Thank you.”
But those six words left an indelible mark. It was enough for me to realize having Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD) gives me an opportunity to positively impact those around me.
The way we conduct ourselves in the face of a tough situation is contagious and noticeable. A glass-half-full approach helps me cope with DMD and helps others to see the joy of life.
Several recent studies link optimism to better health, particularly for people with chronic diseases.
A study at Northwestern University in Illinois with people recently diagnosed with HIV found that positive affect intervention — such as promoting happiness, contentment, and joy — reduced stress. Participants were tasked with practicing skills that included “noting daily positive events,” gratitude journaling, and performing small acts of kindness.
Elsewhere, researchers at Stanford University found that being positive improved children’s educational achievement, specifically in math. In short, a better attitude toward math showed increased ability in the subject. That explains a lot about my physics and math struggles.
Research into positivity and health started in earnest with the 1985 publication of psychologist Michael F. Scheier’s co-authored study, “Optimism, Coping, and Health: Assessment and Implications of Generalized Outcome Expectancies.”
Scheier made a good case for the aforementioned science in a 2012 Q&A with The Atlantic: “I think it’s now safe to say that optimism is clearly associated with better psychological health, as seen through lower levels of depressed mood, anxiety, and general distress, when facing difficult life circumstances, including situations involving recovery from illness and disease.”
Science aside, I don’t need facts to back up my claim that DMD puts us in a situation in which we have a chance to help someone rethink their outlook on life.
Positivity reduces my stress as I navigate a complex disease. I wholeheartedly believe that positivity is noticed by people in our environment and can help them wherever they are in life.
Picture yourself in a physically able person’s shoes. You see someone in a wheelchair with a smile on their face. They kindly ask people to open the door for them, they say “please” and “thank you,” and don’t let minor inconveniences, like having to go the long way around in a restaurant, make them angry or spiteful.
Maybe this non-disabled person recently went through a breakup, lost a job, or was lied to. The attitude of that person in the wheelchair might make them rethink everything and count their blessings. It may change nothing or it may change everything. But at least there’s a chance for good to come out of it.
Whether you’re at home or out in the world, having a positive attitude can make you and others around you happier than you think.
Note: Muscular Dystrophy News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Muscular Dystrophy News or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to muscular dystrophy.