Scientists and psychologists have been telling us for years that positive thinking and attitudes create genuine value in our lives. But, it’s not just about being a happy, upbeat person 24/7 — it is a skill set that supports your physical health, a sense of possibilities, and can even make you more open-minded. These are things that improve your life much more than a “fake-it-till-you-make-it” smile.
A Little Science
To understand how positive thinking works, it is helpful to look first at what negative thinking can do to us.
By example, when you are walking, and a scary dog begins to chase you, your brain registers fear; a negative reaction. In an instant, the rest of the world is blocked out so you can focus your thinking and physical body simultaneously on a fight-or-flight response. This overwhelming feeling causes us to limit our notion of all the options that might be available to us; is there a tree I can climb, find a stick, are there people nearby… all of these thoughts take away from our primal plan — Get Away!
Fortunately, in the modern world, the fight-or-flight instinct is not often necessary, but we still respond to negative reactions in the same way. Many people shut out the world and limit the options that might be available to them. How often have we made “emotional decisions” we later regretted?
Focus on the Good
Kay McConaughey is proof that living positively helps you live well. This Sun City author, actor, and sweetheart has always believed: “Life is good. I’m going to make it good. That is who I am.” She says she has had a positive attitude her entire life, and has some great advice on how we can all make that happen.
First, Kay did not pull her philosophy out of a self-help book. Her life gave her opportunities to be down about things, but she took the other road. “My mother left our home when I was two years old and my stepmother did not like me, so I didn’t have any adult influences to work from. I raised myself, and being positive seemed like the way to do that and be healthy doing it.”
Kay moved around some, married, and had three sons, of whom she is extremely proud, but admits family life required a lot of positive thinking as well. “I didn’t have any examples for good parenting, so I knew exactly what I didn’t want to be. But I married a man who was a loving husband and very supportive of me. We raised our boys with discipline, consistency, and a lot of love.”
Above, Kay (far left) stayed with her son, daughter-in-law, and grandchildren in Austin during the “Stay Home, Stay Safe” period. The group made quite a splash in the media when Matthew joined a group of
seniors at The Enclave in Round Rock for a game of virtual bingo over a large group video call.
The game was featured in media around the world because of their personal touch, a fun game, and messages from the heart.
Kay says she was very content to be with family during this unusual time, but, when we spoke to her, she was very much looking forward to being back in her home in Sun City .
Now, in her Sun City life, she says exercise is a big part of her health and her positive outlook. “I can’t go to my regular exercise class because of current events, but anyone can get out and walk even one mile; just moving is so important for wellness at any age. Taking care of yourself is a positive action that creates positive feelings.”
Her biggest secret, she says, is that she does not give in to stress, which ages us so much. Looking so much younger than her 88 years, she is clearly correct. “I recognize I can’t fix everything, but I am just so happy to try and do the best I can. At the end of the day, when I go to sleep, I let the day go. I don’t want to be a hand-wringer who stands around worrying and accomplishing nothing.” She puts faith in friends and people who have a positive attitude; “If you can’t do something, please try. If you still can’t, then get out of the way and let someone else with the can-do attitude do the work. Sometimes, it’s the results that matter and not who gets the credit.”
Kay doesn’t need experts to explain that experiencing positive emotions like joy, contentment, and love, show us more possibilities in life and help us build new skills that add value to our lives. This may explain why she decided to write a memoir and star in a Hollywood movie in her 70s.
All About Connection
She values her relationships with friends and family and enjoys sharing life with them. “I don’t want to feel like I am leaning on people, but I love to just call up my friend Paula [Dennis] and have a chat when I am in a funk. That’s the ‘doing something’ I’m talking about.” On the flip side of those moments, “I make a conscious choice to stay away from people who are negative and just love to talk about bad things. I don’t let people pull me down.”
You have a choice to be half full or half empty. Focus on the good. I don’t ever want to be at a party thinking, “I was in a good mood until I talked to you.”
The bottom line for Kay is family; three loving, healthy boys who have lovely wives and beautiful grandchildren. “I am happy we raised positive thinking men and they show it in their lives every day. That brings me joy and I hold on to it. So let’s just be kind to one another—how much effort does that take? Most of the time, all it takes to be kind is a hug.”