Is the glass half full or half empty? The question may sound trivial, but the way you answer it says a lot about you, your outlook on life, and your self-image. It may even affect your health and help shape your reality. The fact is, positive thinking (or optimism) is about more than just feeling upbeat and wearing a smile. Researchers have found that thinking positively may lead to all sorts of health benefits, including:
- Longer life span
- Reduced levels of stress
- Lower rates of depression
- Greater resistance to the common cold
- Lower risk of heart attack and stroke
- Better coping skills
- Increased physical and mental well-being
And that’s not all. According to researcher Barbara Fredrickson, positive thinking can also broaden your world, opening up your mind to new possibilities and helping you develop skills and resources that are useful in life. Negative thinking, on the other hand, causes your brain to narrow its focus and reject any new options available to you. Here’s an example:
Let’s say you’ve been downsized from a job. The way you think about this event — negatively or positively — can have a direct impact on what happens next.
Negative thinking: You blame yourself, begin to doubt your abilities, and become fearful you will never find another job. As you focus on the negative, your brain closes itself off from other options.
Positive thinking: You acknowledge the setback but immediately begin looking at ways to fix it. You send out resumes and ask friends for help in finding a new job. Since you have more free time, you also accept an offer to volunteer at a local charity where you gain self-confidence, learn new office skills, and make a contact that soon leads to a job offering.
The science behind it.
One reason it’s easy to fall into negative thinking is because our brains are actually programmed to look for it. According to neuropsychologist Rick Hanson, author of the Hardwiring Happiness, the brains of our ancestors developed a “negativity bias” to help them recognize and remember bad experiences in order to survive. That’s why today, our brains react more strongly to bad news than to good.
Ever notice that it’s easier to wallow in hurt feelings than it is to bask in the praise of a job well done? The good news is, you can offset your brain’s negativity bias by forming new, positive neural pathways.
11 ways to be more positive.
Abraham Lincoln once said, “Most folks are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.” And although bad things happen to all of us, our reaction to them doesn’t have to be negative. In fact, researchers say that about 40 percent of a person’s happiness is within their control and being happy is a choice we all can make.
Here are 11 tips for becoming a happier, more positive person:
- Surround yourself with positive people. Don’t let toxic people cloud your life and stress you out. Negativity is contagious. Only spend time with those who make you smile. After all, happiness is catching, too.
- Avoid negative self-talk. Do you always imagine the worst? Blame yourself when things go wrong? Only see the bad in an otherwise good situation? If you catch yourself engaging in negative self-talk, that’s your cue to “stop” and reassess. Never say anything to yourself that you wouldn’t say to someone else.
- Meditate. Research has shown that people who meditate daily have more positive feelings than those who do not. In addition, living in the present can help you avoid the negative thought loops that come from obsessing about the past or future.
- Keep a happy journal. In a study of undergrads, students who wrote about positive experiences three days in a row had better moods, fewer illnesses, and fewer trips to the doctor three months later, compared to a control group.
- Beware of negative media. Just like the people you spend time with, your sources of news and information (TV, internet, magazines) can have a positive or negative effect on your mental state. Make sure you’re being lifted up, not dragged down, by what you view and read.
- Take off the rose-colored glasses. Thinking positively doesn’t mean you only see the good and ignore all the rest. On the contrary, optimism means recognizing life’s challenges and facing them with positivity. It means making the most of a bad situation.
- Bask in small, positive moments. You probably experience dozens of positive moments every day that you simply take for granted — the rich taste of chocolate, nuzzles from a pet, the warm feeling of socks on a cool November day. Pay attention to experiences like these. Linger in the positivity they bring to you. Appreciate the good.
- Find humor. Laughter is a great way to alleviate stress and boost your levels of feel-good endorphins. So give yourself permission to laugh at life, especially when you’re facing tough times. Spend time with friends who make you laugh. Watch funny movies or sitcoms. Read something humorous.
- Reframe any negative thoughts. Too often, we focus on what we don’t want, rather than what we do. Instead of imagining everything that could go wrong with an upcoming presentation, for instance, see yourself calmly winning over your audience. Reframe your thoughts in the affirmative, and see how much better you feel.
- “Fake it ’til you make it.” Even when you’re not feeling upbeat, act as if you are. Smile, think good thoughts, and do some positive self-talk. After a few minutes, your outlook may actually start to improve.
- View setbacks as a challenge. When bad things happen, don’t give in to negativity. Try to find ways to fix the problem and lift yourself up. Develop a positive plan of action and ask others for help. Rather than giving up, see the setback as a challenge that can only make you stronger.