Pessimists be warned: Getting out on the wrong side of the bed could be bad for your long-term mental and physical health. New evidence is stacking up that a positive mindset does more than just give you a sunny disposition.
So positive people are not just flaunting bigger smiles. Findings show that people who think positive thoughts
- Have less stress
- Are able to cope in stressful situations
- Have great creative problem-solving skills
- Manage to take control of negative situations
- Have stronger immune systems
- Will be less likely to die of heart disease
- Are less likely to suffer from depression
- May actually live longer
That means your glass might be looking a little more than half full at the moment.
While more research is needed to figure out why all these benefits occur, the hypothesis is that being optimistic means you can avoid and overcome stressful situations, so that’s less stress on the mind and fewer stress chemicals (like cortisol) streaming through the body. As a result, there is also a significant decrease in the use and dependence on unhealthy behaviours that can come about as stress management.
Suzanne Segerstrom, a researcher of positive psychology, says it has all to do with resilience. She explains that anything in life really worth doing is going to come with setbacks; it’s an inherent part of human living.
Those who can take a knock and can come back optimist of a better result next time show greater health, not just mentally, but also physically.
For those who see the glass as half empty, you’re not alone in this outlook, most people think this way. There is speculation in studies by professors at the California State University that worst-case-scenario thinking is set in our programming as part of our survival instinct. Because survival depends on detecting and avoiding dangerous situations, this can be something our brains switch onto as a high priority.
These pessimistic thoughts can take up as much as 80 percent of our daily brain activity! No wonder we are stressed, burned out and overwhelmed.
One of the problems pointed out by Suzanne Segerstrom is that we will “fail” in our quest to achieve something worthwhile in our lives a few times before we gain the knowledge, skill or path to achieve it. So in our pursuit of happiness, we are likely to experience quite a bit of pain, or at least discomfort.
But most of us are not taught to see making mistakes as a good thing and this can have an impact on our motivation, decision making, creativity.
There is good news, really good news, and that is you can train your brain to cut back on negative self-talk and look for the silver lining in every grey cloud. Here are some simple activities to get you started, and you can do them straight away.
Pay attention to what you think
Rather than push any nagging emotional problem aside, pay attention to your thoughts. Really get curious about what is bothering you, stressing you out, or causing you doubt. You don’t need to do this every minute of the day, just give yourself as much as ten minutes to sit quietly and self-reflect on what’s eating at you. Once you identify your feelings and what is driving them you can take steps to address the issues and get them fixed.
Optimism isn’t hoping the problem will go away on its own, optimism is knowing you have the ability to face the challenge and have a better tomorrow.
Best case scenario
When you have a negative outlook you may think that addressing your problems will lead to disaster, your boss will fire you, your partner will leave you, your parents will disown you. While these thoughts are meant to protect us from harm, in most cases they stop us from taking action and keep us stuck in a place we’d rather not be.
Just as probable is Best Case Scenario. What if your boss gives you a raise, you and your partner reconnect, your family gatherings become something to look forward to?
By focusing on how much happiness you will gain from taking action you will be more motivated to speaking up and finding a resolution.
Be aware of what you say
A simple change in the way we phrase things can have a big impact on our thoughts. I ban words like try and should from my vocabulary. If I say, “I will try to get something done”, I probably won’t, but if I say, “I will get something done”, I probably will.
The same with words like should, must and have to. Instead, I say, I want to, I love to, and I get to. You’ll notice the difference in how you feel from the very first time you do it. So stop should-ing all over yourself.
Focus on three positives
We can have so many negative thoughts in a day they can often flood the positive ones and drown them out. Sometimes we go to bed at the end of the day thinking that it was nothing but a bad day, but actually, some great things happened, we just forgot to pay attention to them.
One really great way to get around the bad day syndrome is to recall three great things that happened in your day when you go to bed at night. If you are in a relationship, share these three things with your partner. It can be anything, big or small, something you saw, you did or had happened to you, like seeing a beautiful rainbow, having a great cup of coffee, watching your cat sleep in the sun, catching up with a colleague in your lunch break; all these things count towards your happiness.
Shower yourself with gratitude
When we are grateful for the life we have and the people in it, it doesn’t matter at all if the glass is half full or half empty. Life is full.
To help boost your gratitude it can help to keep a notebook where you list of the things you are grateful for. Personally, I like to go for a gratitude walk and spend some time moving outside while I make internal lists of the people, experiences and events I am grateful for.
With practice, gratitude will come to you easily and you will notice more good things in your day as they happen.
Give out random acts of kindness
I’m sure that when it comes to reviewing your positives for the day and sharing gratitude, random acts of kindness always make it onto your list, so pay it forward and give someone else something to be grateful for. Buy a coffee, make a donation, volunteer your time, put a nice treat out to share at work, compliment someone. You’ll feel a tingle in your toes when you do and it will put a smile on your face.
Be kind to yourself
When you look after yourself you feel better and have more energy to tackle life’s ups and downs. Research shows that taking care of yourself influences your happiness and also exercises your brain towards being positive.
Of course, there are the well-known health activities, a great diet, regular exercise and good sleep, which are all important so make sure you get high-quality doses of all of them. Add to this 20-30 minutes of activities that can include yoga, journaling, meditation, as well as taking time in your week to do activities you love to do. That might be pampering yourself, watching a movie in your pyjamas, having a bath, going for a picnic, reading, anything you like. Spending regular time outdoors in nature is also proven to improve your state of mind so go to the beach, to a nature park, go for a hike and get some fresh air.
If you are struggling to find positives after doing these activities call on some help. It’s not a normal part of life to be stressed and unhappy. There is enough happiness for everyone so call up a coach and book in a session to help get you unstuck and bouncing back to a brighter, healthier you.