This article first appeared in the Vail Daily on March 20, 2020.
During times of substantial adversity and stress, it seems flippant and almost irresponsible to say, “stay positive.” However, for decades research has linked positive thinking with enhanced medical outcomes, psychological well-being, and relationship satisfaction.
Over the past two weeks, our community has faced substantial challenges. There have been historic closings for schools, restaurants, hotels, and businesses. There have been public health orders that impact our ability to connect and convene with our friends and support systems. There is financial uncertainty for individuals, families, and businesses throughout our community. There is fear. However, within all of this uncertainty, there is also hope.
Hope is an incredibly powerful and often overlooked psychological force. During the 1950s, Curt Richter, a Denver native, Harvard Graduate and scientist with John Hopkins University, conducted a profound (and by today’s standards incredibly cruel) experiment on rats.
Dr. Richter placed rats into buckets of water and timed their ability to swim. Rats, who are apparently known for their strong swimming skills, lasted an average of 15 minutes before drowning. In a second experiment, Richter rescued the rats when he saw them begin to stop swimming and sink. When he took them out, he dried them off and gave them a short period of rest (I like to picture him doing this with a mini, yet plush, rat-size towel). And then, just as they were dry and rested, Richter put them back into the water. However, this time Richter identified a substantial behavioral change. The rescued rats swam longer than 15 minutes. In fact, they swam for nearly 60 hours.
Psychologists often cite this article as evidence of the power of hope. Our perspective can be incredibly powerful. When we are hopeful that our circumstances are temporary and change is possible, we can achieve extraordinary feats. Hope can be the factor that changes an outcome. Stay hopeful, Eagle County.
Dr. Casey Wolfington is a licensed psychologist and the community behavioral health director with Eagle Valley Behavioral Health, an outreach of Vail Health. For information on therapy and support services available in our community, please visit http://www.eaglevalleybh.org. Scholarships and financial assistance are available for behavioral health services through EVBH.