How To Bring More Positivity Into Your Life
I’ll admit it: I’ve been in a bit of a slump these days, and most people I know feel similarly. In a recent viral article, psychologist Adam Grant pointed out that “languishing” has become something of a global condition, a mental and emotional state felt around the world during challenging times such as these when positivity is in short supply. Indifference, aimlessness, and a general sense that I would characterize as “blah” have become the defining features of our spirits. It’s so pervasive that I had begun to accept it as my new personality, one that everyone else would just have to accept, until the other day when my husband finally asked, “Can’t you just try to be positive?” He was driving at the time, so looking me in the eye while delivering this emotional gut-punch would have been ill-advised; nevertheless, I felt sufficiently chastised because I knew he was right.
I’d been behaving like a raincloud of a human, an Eeyore minus the cartoonish charm, and it was affecting everyone in our household. Acknowledging this in no way dismisses the hardship of my specific circumstances (and everyone’s circumstances involve unique hardships). Working from home with a small child, facing personal health issues, being confined to a small apartment in a foreign country where I felt isolated, and grieving the plans and dreams that simply weren’t coming to pass all make for legitimate reasons to experience sadness, anger, and negativity. The problem arose when I chose to focus exclusively on those hardships.
There’s certainly no easy fix for tough times, and I strongly recommend speaking to a licensed therapist or a mental health professional if you’re experiencing profound negative feelings. I am not a doctor. But if you’re looking for some bite-size, high-impact ways to improve your attitude and outlook, you’ve come to the right place. You might even find that bringing more positivity into your life also boosts your well-being, as a positive attitude has been proven to reduce stress levels and bolster your physical health.
Focus On Gratitude to Build Positivity
My wonderful therapist likes to remind me that when it comes to our neural pathways, the law of the land is “survival of the busiest.” In other words, the messages and narratives we repeat to ourselves will become strengthened and engrained in our thinking – for better or for worse. A concerted effort to focus on all the reasons we have to be thankful will, over time, make the gratitude – and positivity – come more naturally.
To get the ball rolling, integrate a “gratitude list” into your routine. Every day, morning or night, write down the things you’re thankful for. If you keep a journal, you can expound on your list and drill down into why those things are so meaningful to you. For me, the list often begins broadly, like feeling thankful that I have a roof over my head, that I have wonderful friends and family, that I have an income, etc. Then I like to get more specific: for example, I’m thankful that I got to have a long phone call with my sister this week, or that my freelance work has allowed me to master new skills, or for the sweet drawing my son made for me. If I’m really struggling with the blues that day, it’s enough to write out the things that are keeping me going: the taste of hot coffee in my mug, the sunshine on the balcony, the memory foam in my slippers. (Yes, some days positivity starts there, and that’s okay.)
As with any new habit, this list might feel artificial at first, but when you let yourself focus on everything you have to be thankful for, those neural pathways will make it more natural for you to see and savor the good instead of getting stuck on the bad.
Not to sound like your boss or anything, but keeping your sights trained on solutions will help you overcome challenges and keep them in perspective. A solutions-focused mindset serves to augment your sense of agency and filter problems through an optimistic, positive lens, allowing you to feel hope for the future and confident in your ability to be an active participant in your own life rather than a bystander or a victim.
A list can be a big help here too! Sit down and brainstorm some solutions – no matter how far-fetched – to overcome a problem. For me, putting these ideas on paper helps me weigh my options and get a sense of which solution is the most feasible. (Sometimes it really is the one that initially felt unrealistic.)
Create Time for Self-Improvement
On any given day, there are plenty of demands on our time, and plenty of people (hi, children) vying for our attention. Unfortunately, all too often this means we don’t make time to work on ourselves. Seeking positivity means looking for opportunities to improve our lives – and there are so many ways to do that!
Reading books, doing yoga, learning mindfulness practices, listening to an uplifting or instructional podcast, taking a class online, or joining a self-help or support group are all effective ways to engage in self-improvement. It may require getting up thirty minutes earlier in the morning, and that’s not a bad thing; whatever you take in at this point in your day is going to stick with you until bedtime, so why not begin with something that will make you feel like you can conquer the world? It’s important to carve out time to engage in learning and take care of your personhood – doing so is certainly going to make you more positive.
Surround Yourself with Positive Inputs
The things, people, and voices we surround ourselves with can have an outsized impact on our mindset, both negative and positive. That’s why it’s important to reduce negative influences as much as possible and to remain conscious of the inputs in your environment. If you’re surrounded by people who see the glass half empty, negativity can become a learned or absorbed behavior.
For example, look for the people who will characterize a sink full of dirty dishes as the remnants of a wonderful meal spent together rather than a disgusting mess. You become like the people you spend the most time with – and just as you don’t want to reflect the negativity of those around you, neither do you want to be the person spreading the negative energy (as I learned the hard way).
Be Intentional with Your Online Time to Safeguard Positivity
Are you in the habit of scrolling through the news the moment you wake up or clicking through Twitter clap-backs? That’s a habit you’ll want to kick – it’s terrible for your mental health and it hamstrings your positivity. The headlines seem (at least to me) to be increasingly grim: from natural disasters and political mud-slinging to pandemic death tolls and criminal trials, I personally never feel cheered after spending the initial moments of my day checking in online.
The data supports this theory: a 2015 study found that those who spent just three minutes reading the morning news were 27% more likely to report their day as unhappy a full six to eight hours later compared to those who focused on positivity in the morning. I don’t know about you, but with my positivity as fragile as it’s been this year, a day-long bad mood is the last thing I need.
You can be more intentional with your online reading and scrolling by turning off news alerts, opting not to click through to the drama-fueled comment section, and ensuring that the social media apps you use the most are contributing to your positive mindset. There’s no exact formula to that last point – only you know what might trigger you on social media, and you have every right to act to safeguard your positivity and well-being.
Perform Acts of Kindness to Spread Positivity
Doing something nice for someone else tends to multiply positivity exponentially; not only does the act of kindness make the recipient happy (and likely to pay it forward), but it adds positivity to your day as well. As much as possible, strive to make acts of kindness a frequent habit. The best part is, there’s a million ways you can do that.
For example, you could buy coffee for the person in line behind you at the café or bring cookies to the security guard at your office. Donate food and clothes to a charitable organization, or volunteer for a cause you’re passionate about. By doing something kind for somebody else, you can also bring joy, fulfillment and positivity into your own day.
Whatever hardships or negativity you’re encountering in this season of life – and I believe that these trials are real and deserving of recognition – they don’t have to change you for the worse. In fact, they can represent an opportunity for real growth; not through superficial acts like faking a smile or peppering your texts with laughter emojis, but through the real work of recognizing your mindset and striving for a genuine shift to positive thinking.