We’ve all heard the adage, “Be positive!”
What is all this hype about positivity? Some people who haven’t jumped on the positivity bandwagon might argue that their cynical outlook on life is a more realistic way of seeing the world, while those who try to force themselves to be happy are just lying to themselves.
So which is right? Which perspective and outlook on life has the greatest benefit? Is it all a matter of preference?
The realist perspective is one that humans developed long ago. This view on life is the brain trying to self-preserve, avoid potential threats, and stay safe. In the past, these threats were life-threatening, but our world has dramatically evolved since the pre-historic era. This approach doesn’t yield as many benefits as it once did our prehistoric ancestors.
What’s so great about being positive?
A positive perspective is not an easy one. It can be especially hard when difficult situations and annoying occurrences arise.
While positive thinking is nothing more than the way you decide to view each situation, it can make your life a whole lot easier. Being positive won’t change your situation, but it will help you get through the tough times.
Why is this? Have you ever had a day where you woke up on the wrong side of the bed and then got up to eat breakfast and knocked over, broke, or spilled something?
Or have you ever been angry and felt like the whole world was conspiring against you? This happens because the things you focus on become magnified.
When we have a negative focus, we tend to find all the things that are wrong with our life or the day. On the flip side, when we train our brains to find the positive things in life, we find them.
What can I do to be more positive?
The critics of positivity have it right when they say that it is difficult to will yourself positive. Positivity is like a muscle and when you work it out, aka practice positivity, it grows stronger.
If you’re looking to work on living a more positive life, here are some things you can try:
Brene Brown, a researcher on shame, vulnerability, and connection, found that the happiest people (or who she calls “wholehearted”) all have one thing in common; they all have a gratitude practice.
When you begin to train your brain to see the positive things in life, it is hard not to be happier.
Think about it this way- there are only so many things you can think about at once, so if you are focusing on what you’re grateful for, you won’t be thinking about the negative.
A gratitude practice could be many different things. Listed below are just a few.
- Journaling daily about what you are grateful for
- Having a grateful practice with someone else where you both share what you’re grateful for each day
- Incorporate gratitude into your daily meditation or prayers
Listen to positive music
Finding upbeat or calming music can be a great way to change your mood. Look for music with lyrics that will empower you and help you notice the good things in the world. Try to avoid music that will bring you down.
Look for the Lesson
No matter how positive you may be, there will be instances where times get hard. In these instances, it can be helpful to look for the lesson to be learned or to see what you may not have understood before.
While you may not be happy-go-lucky all the time, positivity can make the hard times a little more bearable and help you manage the rough waters.
Be nice to yourself
For most people, they are their worst critic. Positivity begins from within. If you find that you often have negative self-talk or negative beliefs about yourself, you may want to work on these thoughts/beliefs.
Some things that may help negative beliefs or self-talk include the following.
- Become conscious of your negative self-talk. This will give you insight as to the circumstances that trigger these thoughts. It will also help give you some insight into what beliefs you may hold about yourself.
- See a counselor or therapist to learn skills to process your beliefs. Therapists are a great resource for gaining insight as to when and why negative beliefs formed and how to overcome them.
- Change the way you talk to yourself. If you often say “I am….” statements, try to change this instead to a statement about the action itself and not you as a person.
E.g. “I am a mistake,” versus, “I made a mistake.”
- Replace negative statements with more encouraging statements
E.g. “I’m so fat!” versus, “I may not be where I would like to be, but I’m
working towards it. “
A smile is a win-win for everyone. A simple smile from you can transform someone else’s day, but it also has positive effects for you.
Did you know there’s research showing that smiling (a real smile that includes “smiling with your eyes”) can actually make you happier?
When one smiles, the body releases a happy hormone into the bloodstream. So beware, if you smile, you’re bound to be happier than you were before. Try it!
Take control of your life! There are things that aren’t in our control, such as the weather, other people’s actions, etcetera; however, there are many things that are in our control.
If you find yourself becoming annoyed, bothered, angry, sad, or any other reactionary emotion, take a moment to reflect on what part of the situation is in your control. Once you figure that out, take action and change what you can, and accept what you can’t.
Assume the best
This one might be the hardest to implement, but it is especially helpful in those situations we can’t control that involve other people. When you are reacting negatively to the actions of other people, tell yourself this phrase, “They are doing the best they can” (Brene Brown, Rising Strong).
When we assume that others have good intentions and that they are doing the best they can with the tools they have, we then respond with more compassion, patience, understanding, empathy and are emotionally in a better place to know how to correctly handle the situation(Brene Brown, Rising Strong).