When something goes horribly wrong, our emotions hardly feel like a choice. It’s logical to feel upset, angry or guilty about a negative situation, so it only makes sense to react accordingly, right?
Not entirely. Research suggests that our happiness is more of a choice than purely influenced by circumstance. And as the Shakespeare quote above implies, the nature of our situations may just be determined by how we categorize them. In other words, a negative attitude may appear to be the logical reaction, but that doesn’t mean we have to adopt one.
It isn’t hard to be one of those people who looks on the bright side of life, but it might take some practice. In honor of Positive Thinking Day, below are six tips for becoming a more glass-half-full kind of thinker.
Don’t be a Pollyanna.
Despite popular belief, positive thinkers don’t always see the world through rose-colored glasses. Part of effectively adopting this mindset is training yourself to become a realistic optimist, says positivity expert Joffrey Suprina, Ph.D., dean of the College of Behavioral Sciences at Argosy University.
“Many people think that positive thinkers only look at the good side and ignore everything else,” he tells The Huffington Post. “But if you go too much in that direction, there’s a potential for harm as well. Positive thinkers really are individuals who recognize both the bright side and the negative, but they choose to focus their energy and time on the side that’s going to promote the most positive outcome.”
The difference between those who see the positive over the negative also lies in their observations. Suprina says positive-minded individuals squash the ANTs, or automatic negative thoughts, as soon as they start to appear.
“Most negative thoughts aren’t conscious, we’re not even aware of them,” he explains. “Positive thinkers are aware of those messages they’re telling themselves and the direction they’re taking them. They don’t go down that rabbit hole of negativity — they catch it and reverse it around.”
Avoid labeling your thoughts.
“In order to achieve this type of thought process, we also need to let go of judgment,” says Suprina. “In our society we have this tendency to label something as either good or wrong [so quickly].”
One way to do this is through mindfulness. By engaging in the practice, you gain more recognition over what goes through your mind, and as a result, you’re more capable of addressing it. “The work for anyone struggling with perpetual negative thinking is to recognize that these thoughts are just that — thoughts, and not facts,” licensed psychotherapist Courtney Gregory writes over at Greatist. “Then, it’s time to challenge these automatic patterns of thinking. This is where mindfulness meditation comes in.” Need some tips on how to start practicing mindfulness meditation? Try using this guide.
Feed your positivity.
The only way to expand any skill set is to build habits that reinforce that behavior — and that goes for positive thinking as well, Suprina says. In order to become a more positive person, he suggests doing activities that can help cultivate those emotions. Studies have shown that practices like meditation and journaling, as well as spending time with your friends and family, all have the ability to increase positive feelings. And positive feelings = positive thoughts.
Engage in uplifting conversations with yourself.
It’d be hard to find someone who didn’t have at least one piece of self-criticism, positive thinkers included. The difference, Suprina explains, is they turn those negative statements into something actionable.
“Positive thinkers are sometimes going to have those negative self-talk statements that flash through their heads, but the difference is they’re going to be aware of it and do something [about it],” he says. “They counter those thoughts and refocus themselves.”
Surround yourself with positive people.
Toxic situations are easily the biggest influencers on a negative mind. Research suggests that stress is indeed contagious — and the more you surround yourself with it, the more likely you are to let it affect your thoughts.
On the flip side, studies show that happiness is also catching. In order to maintain their sunny disposition, positive thinkers only surround themselves with people and things that will help that attitude flourish, Suprina says. And as a result, their lives are a whole lot brighter.
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