The Positive Shift

The Positive Shift

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Mastering Mindset to Improve Happiness, Health, and Longevity

Catherine A. Sanderson

Subjects: LCSH: Self-actualization (Psychology) | Selfcare, Health. | Longevity. | Interpersonal relations.

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Book Details
 243 p
 File Size 
 5,370 KB
 File Type
 PDF format
 9781946885715 (electronic)
 9781946885449 (trade paper : alk. paper)
 2019 by Catherine A. Sanderson   

About the Author
CATHERINE A. SANDERSON is the Manwell Family Professor of Life
Sciences (Psychology) at Amherst College in Amherst, Massachusetts. She
received a bachelor’s degree with honors in psychology and a specialization in
health and development from Stanford University, and received both master’s
and doctoral degrees in psychology from Princeton University.
Professor Sanderson’s research examines how personality and social
variables influence health-related behaviors, the development of persuasive
messages and interventions to prevent unhealthy behavior, and the predictors of
relationship satisfaction. This research has received grant funding from the
National Science Foundation and the National Institute of Health.
She has served on multiple editorial boards, as a member of the GRE
psychology committee with the Educational Testing Service (ETS), and as a
consultant for the American Medical College. In 2012 she was named one of the
country’s top three hundred professors by the Princeton Review. Professor
Sanderson has published more than twenty-five journal articles and book
chapters in addition to four college textbooks, middle school and high school
health textbooks, and a book on parenting.
Professor Sanderson speaks regularly for public and corporate audiences on
topics such as the science of happiness, the power of emotional intelligence, the
mind-body connection, and the psychology of good and evil; more information
about these presentations can be found on her website, SandersonSpeaking.com.
These talks have been featured in numerous mainstream media outlets, including
the Washington Post, the Boston Globe, the Atlantic, and CBS Sunday Morning
with Jane Pauley.
She lives with her husband, Bart Hollander, 
and their three children—Andrew, Robert, and Caroline—in Hadley, Massachusetts.

I gave a talk a few years ago on the science of happiness at a large financial
services convention in which attendees had the option to sit in on one of
several presentations on different topics. At the end of my lecture, a
woman came up to me to tell me how much she enjoyed it. And then she
said, “To be honest, I almost didn’t come to your session, because I figured that I
would really hate you.”
Her comment was—let’s just say—unexpected. So, I thanked her for her
unusual compliment and then asked her why she had such a negative
She responded, “I just figured that anyone who talked about happiness for an
hour would be all about rainbows and kittens and that by the end of the hour I
would want to strangle you.”
I open this book with that story to illustrate a key principle that I’ll return to
repeatedly in the pages ahead. There are indeed some people who are naturally
happy and who do consistently see the world in an overwhelmingly positive
way; these are the “kittens and rainbows” people. If you are one of those people,
congratulations . . . and truly, you don’t really need this book because you are
already probably doing the right things to find happiness and good health.
Unfortunately, I am not one of these people. I worry about far too many
things. Is this traffic jam going to make me miss my plane? Is that pain in my
stomach a sign of cancer? Is my son with mediocre grades ever going to get into
college? My natural tendency is quite honestly one of doom and gloom—pretty
much the opposite of the kittens-and-rainbows perspective.
So, how did I manage to write a book on strategies for finding happiness?
Good question!
For the past twenty years, I’ve taught classes and conducted research on
various topics within psychology. As part of my job, I regularly read scientific
studies to stay up to date on the latest findings in my field. Over the last five or
so years, some of the most interesting and exciting research has come from an
emerging field called positive psychology, which examines the factors predicting
psychological and physical well-being. Here are just some of the fascinating
findings from researchers in this field:
• Spending time on Facebook makes us feel sad and lonely.1
• Expensive brand-name medicines provide better pain relief than
the generic stuff, even if they share the same ingredients.2
• Placing a cell phone on a table reduces the quality of a
• Patients in a hospital room with a view of nature recover faster
from surgery than those without.4
• People with positive expectations about aging live on average
seven and a half years longer than those without.5
As I took in the assorted research and tried to synthesize it to share with my
students, I became more and more convinced that these seemingly disparate
findings actually illustrate a really simple point: Our happiness in daily life, the
state of our physical health, and even how long we live are largely determined
not by external events, but rather by the way we think about ourselves and the
world around us.
Why does spending time on Facebook make us feel bad? Because we
compare our lives to other people’s lives, and most people post only the good
parts of their lives on social media. This leads us to think that other people
consistently experience great events—successful kids, fabulous vacations,
impressive careers, and so on. Our own lives can’t seem to measure up.
Why do expensive brand-name medicines work better than the low-cost
generic ones? Because we think that costly medicines will work better than their
cheap counterparts, and this belief causes us to act in ways that lead us to
physically feel better. For example, if you are about to undergo a medical
procedure and are worried about the pain, receiving a drug that you believe will
reduce this pain will substantially lower your anxiety. And in turn, this decrease
in anxiety will help reduce the pain you feel.
As I read all this research on how our beliefs affect how we feel, I started
trying to use this information to change my own thoughts and behavior to try to
find greater happiness. So, instead of mindlessly surfing the internet as I lay in
bed, I made a point of finding a great book to read. Even when I felt too busy to
exercise, I chose to take a twenty-minute walk at lunch.
For some people, adopting a positive mindset comes naturally. These people
find the silver lining in every cloud and are happier and healthier as a result. For
others, including myself, adopting this type of optimistic worldview takes time,
energy, and effort. These people have to shift their pessimistic general
predisposition to find that mysterious silver lining, and they have to work
diligently to engage in behaviors that make them feel better, not worse—like
going for a brisk walk in nature to cope with sadness, rather than looking for
happiness at the bottom of a pint of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream.
But here’s the good news for those who struggle to feel happy: no matter our
natural tendency, we can all achieve greater happiness and better health by
making relatively small changes in how we think about ourselves and the world.
As author Elizabeth Gilbert writes in her 2006 memoir Eat Pray Love:
Happiness is the consequence of personal effort. You fight for it, strive for
it, insist upon it, and sometimes even travel around the world looking for it.
You have to participate relentlessly in the manifestations of your own
blessings. And once you have achieved a state of happiness, you must never
become lax about maintaining it. You must make a mighty effort to keep
swimming upward into that happiness forever, to stay afloat on top of it.
Positive, optimistic thoughts don’t come easily to me; I have to work for my
happiness. For the last few years, I’ve deliberately shifted my mentality to be
more in line with what the research shows makes people happier. Instead of
wallowing in other people’s glowing social media posts and comparing my own
fortune (or lack thereof) to theirs, I shift my thinking to stop these negative
thoughts and instead focus on the very real things I have that are good. My kid’s
not going to be valedictorian, but he’s got a great group of friends. My family’s
not spending two weeks in Tahiti, but we really enjoy our one week in a rental
house on the Jersey Shore.
My natural inclination is clearly not to find the silver lining, but with time
and energy and effort, I find it easier all the time to shift my thinking in ways
that do make me happier. My goal in writing this book is to give others who also
struggle to feel happy specific, science-based strategies they can use to improve
the quality—and longevity—of their lives. So, congratulations on taking the first
step by picking up this book, and I very much hope The Positive Shift will help
you find the happiness you deserve.

Table of Contents
Chapter 1 Mindset Matters
Chapter 2 Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers: Mindset Affects Health
Chapter 3 Older Adults Are Wise, Not Forgetful: Mindset Affects
Chapter 4 Secrets of Centenarians: Mindset Affects Longevity
Chapter 5 Are You Tigger or Eeyore: Personality Matters
Chapter 6 “Comparison Is the Thief of Joy”: Environment Matters
Chapter 7 Embrace Adversity: Trauma Matters
Chapter 8 Change Your Behavior and Your Mindset Will Follow
Chapter 9 Nature Does the Mind and Body Good
Chapter 10 Spend Money Wisely: Take a Trip, See a Play, Go to a Game
Chapter 11 Give a Gift—to Anyone
Chapter 12 Build Relationships: All You Need Is Love
About the Author


Praise for The Positive Shift
“The research is clear: Your mindset is one of the greatest predictors of your success and well-being. With practical strategies and stories, Catherine Sanderson shows you how to apply this research at work, with your family, and in your own life.”
—Shawn Achor
New York Times bestselling author of Before Happiness and The Happiness Advantage
“A smart and engaging exploration of the science 
of happiness and how we can use it on our own lives.”
—Daniel Gilbert
author of Stumbling on Happiness and professor of psychology at Harvard University 
“As someone who in the past has suffered from anxiety and depression, I only wish this
book had been available in those dark days. It is chock full of evidence-based strategies of how to
convert the Eeyores of this world like me into Tiggers. And we really can change into more kittens and
rainbows sorts of people! Professor Sanderson shares in her warm and conversational voice what really
makes a difference to our mental health, from using money to save time, to planning a trip (even better
than going on one), and why we should give gifts to everyone. I was electrified to read the data and
evidence for lots of stuff I naturally have learned to do in my own efforts to become calm and well.
But I discovered a whole lot of new ideas, too: try saying ‘I don’t do something’ rather than ‘I can’t.’
Above all, this is a book that gives hope. We can change our mindset, and in doing so we really can
become happier and healthier, and even live longer. Here’s to making The Positive Shift.”
—Rachel Kelly
bestselling author of Walking on Sunshine: 52 Small Steps to Happiness
“The Positive Shift offers a rare and valuable combination by offering deeply practical advice about what can seem an impossibly abstract problem: 
How can we use our big brains to increase our well-being?”
—Michael Norton
professor at Harvard Business School and coauthor of Happy Money
“Everyone seeking to live a long and successful life needs The Positive Shift! Catherine Sanderson’s mantra that our mindsets have powerful influences on our performance—good and bad—gives us an incredible set of tools to make important changes at any stage of life.”
—Marc E. Agronin, MD
author of The End of Old Age: Living a Longer, More Purposeful Life
“Dr. Catherine Sanderson, nationally recognized as a fabulous teacher, researcher, corporate speaker, and consultant, has gifted us with a goldmine of information to reduce stress and improve our life. Using only empirically significant research findings, case histories, personal anecdotes and foibles, and self-quizzes, Professor Sanderson provides clear and compelling take-home instructions for adopting a positive mindset. Her warm and accessible writing style will definitely enable you to become happier, healthier, and wiser and live longer. Who could ask for anything more!”
—Dr. James B. Maas
Weiss Presidential Fellow and former professor and chair of psychology at
Cornell University and CEO of Sleep for Success 
“The Positive Shift is a lucid work, drawing upon the latest scientific findings, that will enable readers to enhance their health and well-being in daily life. I especially liked Dr. Sanderson’s ability to weave events from her own life into this tapestry designed to help others.”
—Edward Hoffman, PhD
author of Paths to Happiness: 50 Ways to Add Joy to Your Life Every Day