Do You Brake for Squirrels?

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Published February 01, 2013

| FOXBusiness

Surely by now you’ve seen this Nationwide Insurance commercial with Julia Roberts doing the voiceover:

“In the nation, people are remembering driver’s ed. They’re looking left, then right, then left again. They’re not texting or Tweeting. No, sir. They’re braking for squirrels and then some. And their deductibles are disappearing.”

The images are of people driving responsibly and alertly. Roberts goes on to say that customers get $100 off for every year of safe driving.

Hello, glass half-full.

Because of course there was another alternative. It could have gone like this:

“In the nation, people are running ‘stop’ signs. They’re pulling out with barely a glance in either direction. They’re texting and Tweeting. Yes, sir. They’re hitting squirrels and then some. And we are jacking up their rates like crazy.”

Now we know the latter scenario is true. But so is the former.

I love this ad for all it says and even more so for what it doesn’t say. We have a choice in how we look at things and that choice – many of them a day, in fact – directly impacts how we live our lives.

Abundance or lack? Agreeable or argumentative? Optimistic or pessimistic?

A friend recently asked me about my health insurance plan and if it covers chemotherapy. I was startled. It had never occurred to me to inquire about (anticipate?) a specific disease when I shopped around. I purchased the best plan I could afford. Period.

My recent dialogue with a gun enthusiast on my Facebook feed was not, in my view, about guns or the Second Amendment at all but a deeper life philosophy born of a read on history – either you believe there’s a possibility the government will come crashing through your door with guns blazing or you don’t. You either prepare for that or you don’t. Guns give you peace because you’re ready or they give you anxiety because you see them as dangerous.

I’m not positing these here as right/wrong or black/white. They simply are what they are. Ways of being in the world.

You can focus on how a program helps the poor or you can zero in on all those cheating the system. You can live as if someone is always trying to rip you off or cut you off, or choose not to take it personally when the cashier rings up that extra two dollars or the aggressive driver moves into your lane too quickly. Make it right. Take a deep breath. Move on.

Choices.

A friend recently sent me a book called The Happiness Advantage by Shawn Achor. It is not, as the title might suggest, some sappy self-help book telling readers to put on a smile and take on the day and all will be jolly. No, it’s way better than that polyanna philosophy so many authors and experts are peddling.

Achor, an expert on human potential and the former head teaching fellow for a now well-known happiness course at Harvard, explains seven principles for achieving what he calls “the happiness advantage”; the book is illuminating and well worth reading. But for the purposes of this column on outlook, I’d like to share some of Achor’s observations and research findings.

He tells of being asked to speak at a Wellness Week event at a prominent New England boarding school and then seeing the topics on the agenda: eating disorders, depression, drugs and violence, and risky sex.

“That’s not a wellness week; that’s a sickness week,” Achor writes.

But, in fact, that is the norm. According to Achor, “Extraordinarily, as late as 1998, there was a 17-to-1 negative-to-positive ratio of research in the field of psychology. In other words, for every one study about happiness and thriving there were 17 studies on depression and disorder … As a society, we know very well how to be unwell and miserable and so little about how to thrive.”

This is so pervasive that I found myself excitedly responding to a positive car insurance ad when I don’t even own a car.

“Happiness is not about lying to ourselves, or turning a blind eye to the negative, but about adjusting our brain so that we see the ways to rise above our circumstances,” Achor writes.

Uh huh.

I know some of you like your glass half-empty existence. It works for you. But what I am saying is that if it isn’t working for you, know that you’ve made a choice and that means you can opt for another one.

“Scientists once thought happiness was almost completely hereditary … But thankfully, they have since discovered that in fact we have far more control over our own emotional well-being than previously believed,” Achor writes. “While we each have a happiness baseline that we fluctuate around on a daily basis, with concerted effort, we can raise that baseline permanently so that even when we are going up and down, we are doing so at a higher level.”

I know this firsthand. I led a predominantly angry existence for a long time before consciously changing my disposition. This way works better for me. It feels more like a fit.

“Happiness is not the belief that we don’t need to change; it is the realization that we can,” Achor writes.

We can brake for the squirrel. Or not.

Nancy Colasurdo is a practicing life coach and freelance writer. Her Web site is www.nancola.com and you can follow her on Twitter @nancola. Please direct all questions/comments to FOXGamePlan@gmail.com.

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http://www.foxbusiness.com/personal-finance/2013/02/01/do-brake-for-squirrels/