Positivity is the practice of being cheerful and having a good outlook. It’s decidedly not “never having bad things happen.”
The other definition of positivity is “the presence rather than absence of a certain condition or feature.” Seems simple, right? But think about it a little more deeply— the presence of something (like a bright and happy perspective) rather than the absence of something (like a pessimistic point of view) can lead to positivity. With that in mind, let’s focus on some ways to be that can help promote positivity in your own life.
Being yourself is arguably the number one way to get to a positive state of mind. When you’re trying to be someone or something you’re not, it can cause you to second-guess your thoughts and decisions.
Any time you feel like you need to act like someone else in order to be accepted or you agree to things that don’t resonate with your ethics, you aren’t being authentic. What’s more, when you’re not keeping it real, people can sniff out the disconnect between who you really are and who you say you are. After all, if the choices you make don’t add up to you, how can you expect anyone else to be on board? There’s no one more qualified to be you than you.
Happiness is honestly a choice. We all experience downturns in life, but I would assert that the person who exudes positivity has made a conscious decision to do so.
I’m not suggesting that bad things don’t happen; they do. But how you handle the bad things is what matters the most. While I would never recommend you fake your way out of a tough situation by pretending to be happy, I do recommend adopting a joyful attitude regardless of what life might throw at you. You’ll find that truly happy people possess a peaceful contentment that comes from an intentional place.
It’s hard to be upbeat when you feel like crap. Eating real, whole foods and moving your body will help you immensely with a positive mindset.
Regular exercise has been proven to release serotonin (the “feel-good” hormone) into your system. So-called “runner’s high” isn’t just for marathoners. Taking an exercise class, getting your heart rate up by using the stairs instead of the elevator, and concentrated bursts of physical activity will all contribute to you feeling better.
It can be easy to focus on what’s wrong rather than what’s right in life, but this is a sure-fire way to mire yourself in negativity. Deepak Chopra reminds us that being truly grateful means your ego isn’t in the equation, so get out of your own way. There’s no posturing or posing, just expressing and feeling thankful for everything in your experience (not just your material goods).
Being open to the beauty, grace, and goodness around you puts you smack-dab in the midst of gratitude. Try keeping a journal to jot down one thing you’re grateful for every day. You might be surprised at how quickly you can get into a state of positivity with this one simple action.
But not in the normal sense of the word. Don’t be selfish at the expense of those around you, and don’t be ego-centered or narcissistic. Do, however, take time for yourself, especially if you’re a caretaker-type.
You can’t be effective as a nurturing, loving, selfless rock star of a human if you don’t take some time to replenish your reserves. I’ve found that when I don’t engage in regular self-care, I’m of no use to my clients or the people I love. Even just 15 minutes of me time can do it. So go on, be good to yourself today.
I mean this in an old-school way. Social media can lend to a sense of connection but in reality can be isolating. Research is currently being conducted on the impact of social networking sites (SNS) and human psychology, and some of it’s showing a causal relationship between SNS and depression.
Social media can be a fantastic tool to get connected with people in your community for causes you care about or just to have fun with like-minded friends. But don’t rely on it as your sole method of connecting with others. Just like a piece of apple pie doesn’t benefit your well-being as much as a whole apple, neither does social media replace the positive effect of face-to-face time with other humans.
By the same token that connecting with others is a factor in happiness, being okay with being alone is huge in gaining positivity in your life. You may have heard it said that being alone isn’t the same as being lonely, and I completely buy that. One of the most empowering things I did when I was younger was to go to dinner by myself. It was in the pre-ebook reader time, and I took a book with me and thoroughly enjoyed that time being alone with my own thoughts.
Being alone can help you think more creatively, be more productive, and gives you more insight into who you are and what you actually like to do. For introverts especially, being alone will fill the tank like nothing else.
Being focused and excited about anything you’re passionate about will definitely lead you to positivity. It matters less what that thing is and more that you find something that feeds the real you.
Cooking used to be a chore for me until one day I decided I was going to become good at it. Starting small, I bookmarked recipes I found online that looked interesting; some were good, others not, but I kept going. And now, preparing and eating meals sourced from quality, whole food ingredients is one of the great joys of my life. (I’m healthier for it too.)
Mediation is key to bringing positivity into your world. Meditation can be done in so many different ways and is a superb means of quieting your mind. Because there are a multitude of ways to meditate, you need not feel intimidated.
Taking even just a few moments during your day to focus your thoughts on your breathing can be beneficial. Noticing your inhalations and exhalations as a way to contrast the noise outside you with the quietness within you can give you the advantages of meditation: decreasing your blood pressure, removing acute stress, better oxygen levels, and more restful sleep.
This is another way of saying be present. Being present or being mindful just means to be actively aware of what’s happening in your space as it’s happening.
One study showed that people who were actively mindful via a mindfulness journal or mindfulness meditation showed an uptick in happiness as well as a decrease in stress and depression. When you’re being mindful in the presence of others, the likelihood of real connection with them also opens up. How nice it is to focus on what’s unfolding right in front of you! Being present with the happenings of others always brings me joy.
Guess what? Being empathetic or not isn’t necessarily something you’re born with. While some brains truly lack the ability to be empathetic, it turns out that being empathetic is a skill that most of us can develop with practice.
It’s been proven that focusing gratitude, compassion, and love on people who are close to you, on strangers, or on specific situations in the world can actually increase your capacity for empathy. Try a few moments of sending loving kindness outward each day. My bet is you’ll instantly feel more optimistic.
Who knew being rigid and inflexible could decrease positivity? According to experts, it turns out that being adaptable is a foolproof way to a happier existence. Life is going to unfold with circumstances both easy and difficult, and the more you can flex to them, the better off you’ll be.
People who are able to examine their own psychological responses to stressful situations and fine-tune them when they aren’t effective are more likely to be successful in life. Adaptable people also have the ability to see both the positive and negative aspects of themselves and adjust to each new situation without a load of self-recrimination.
Psychologist Martin Seligman, the father of “positive psychology,” contends that being an optimist rather than a pessimist has a direct and dramatic impact on a person’s life. Pessimists tend to give up easier, have issues with depression, and experience poorer health than optimists. Optimists, on the other hand, perform better at school and work and experience good health.
Being hopeful by itself isn’t enough, though. Motivation and persistence are key factors to success and positivity. Learning from mistakes while still having a glass-half-full perspective leads to the best outcomes. You can only mess up and improve if you’re actually doing something. So be optimistic and be in action.
Be in Action
Is there an echo in here? Doing something as opposed to doing nothing can lead to a happier experience in life. Have you ever been stuck in traffic and chosen to take a back road that’s no shorter than the highway but gives you a sense of satisfaction because you’re actually moving? So it goes with your life.
Being in action could mean doing something for your brain like learning a new skill, doing something for your community like volunteering for an organization whose goals resonate with your values, or doing something for your body like training for a triathlon. Whatever it is, as the slogan goes, just do it!
If you have the good fortune to be generous financially, by all means, do so. Most importantly, however, be generous with your time, your spirit, and your kindness. Giving something as simple as a smile to a stranger can get you out of your own patterns and transform a mundane moment into something extraordinary.
Daily giving opens up something for you as well as for the recipients of your generosity. The old adage of doing unto others as you would have done unto you is spot-on. When we give, we expand our own capacity to receive.
But don’t succumb to busywork. Being productive in order to be happy means being mindful of what you’re doing as well as how you’re doing it.
When you wake up, rather than jumping out of bed to hit the ground running, take 10 or 15 minutes to envision how you want your day to look and set intentions for the day. Having a clear and focused plan for accomplishing tasks leads to greater overall satisfaction and lowered stress.
TED talk sensation Brené Brown says that being vulnerable is the key to increased joy and intimacy. Just think about it— when we can give up worry about how we might appear (even if it means looking foolish), we automatically create a space for the people in our lives to relate to us. Because, honestly, who hasn’t messed up?
Learning to break down our own walls of seeming perfect or invincible helps others around us as well. Just like giving helps both the giver and recipient, so does this practice. We all mess up, we all want to belong somewhere, and frankly, we all need other people and their experiences to enrich our own.
Laughter is the one activity that’s both contagious and medicinal at the same time. It reduces stress, gives your internal organs a massage via the muscles used in laughing, and can increase your cancer-fighting white blood cells. And I think we can all agree that laughing with others just feels good (just remember that laughing at the misfortune of others isn’t the kind of feel-good I’m talking about).
Try taking silliness one step further and hone the ability to laugh at yourself. Life can be hard, serious, and difficult at times, but if you ask me, it’s also pretty damn funny. When you laugh regularly, you automatically boost your positivity.
Be responsible for your actions in the world and apologize when those actions don’t line up with your positive values or when you hurt someone. I’ve found that every time I screw up (and believe me, I’ve done that plenty), if I can be accountable for how I contributed to the screw-up, I’m way ahead in terms of my personal development.
Another way to be accountable that really lends itself to a happy life is by being accountable to yourself. If you say you’re going to do something, do it. And if you can’t or you’re delayed, own up to it. Even just saying to yourself, “I said I was going to the gym today and instead I binge-watched a new show” is better than either pretending you didn’t mess up or beating yourself up. Instead, use the experience as a learning one— put going to the gym on your calendar and then reward yourself with your new favorite show once you’ve worked out.
This is another one where you can apply the practice to yourself and to others. Imagine you’re speeding through a parking lot to get to the coffee drive-thru and are cut off by another driver who then gets in line ahead of you. You can either fume at them (in your head or out loud) and raise your cortisol levels or you can practice a little patience and compassion and imagine why they took that action. Being patient is closely linked to being empathetic.
When dealing with yourself, especially as you learn something new or when going through a rough spot, it’s essential to your positivity to be patient. Be as loving, kind, and tolerant of your own foibles as you would with those of your best friend.
Without the ability to tap into a rich inner life of thoughts (aka daydreaming), your brain will get overloaded (aka stressed out). How to be introspective and also function productively in the world? By looking at the positive effects of introspection, such as knowing that daydreaming is proven to increase creativity and test aptitude.
Slowing down and hanging out in your own thoughts also helps reduce stress. The next time you feel overwhelmed or like you might lose it, take a mental break by letting your mind wander. Then ever so gently, pull it back to the task at hand.
Be a Yes
Being open to possibility is healthy, effective, and fun. Every time you say yes to a new experience, you expand yourself. I’m not suggesting trying to be an extrovert if you’re not or saying yes to peer pressure or anything that’s unhealthy for you.
I’m recommending that you say yes to something this year that you never thought you’d do and observe how you experience more positivity. Saying yes to a dance class could break that pattern of seeing yourself as ungraceful. Saying yes to carpooling could lead to more interesting conversations on the way to work.
Be a No
By the same token, saying no is just as important as saying yes. When you don’t set boundaries for yourself, it’s easy to fall into unhealthy cycles. For example, if you find yourself saying yes to energy vampires, you run the risk of getting used or feeling depleted over and over.
This year, just as often as you say yes to something new, try saying no to something old that you know isn’t good for your positive outlook. Cut strings on relationships that drain you, say no to a piece of cake or glass of wine if you tend to overindulge, and be confident with your ability to make sound choices.
Strengthen your mind and body, as both have a huge influence on your readiness and cheerfulness. Exercise increases blood flow everywhere in your body, including your brain. It keeps the brain’s cells working correctly as we age and releases endorphins that help us feel good.
Being strong mentally is just as important as being strong physically. Treat your brain to blueberries, avocados, broccoli, extra-virgin olive oil, dark chocolate, and crossword puzzles or strategy games. And then imagine that your brain has big biceps that you can flex when you use words like “alacrity.”
Being kind doesn’t take money, or an advanced degree, or that much time. It simply takes a willingness to practice compassion and friendliness toward others. Being kind is perhaps the simplest way to promote positivity. Being nasty to other people takes effort and takes something out of you as well.
Research shows that happy people become happier when being kind. Moreover, recognition of being kind actually made the study participants happier. In turn, they became even kinder. Talk about a win-win.
Often, we focus on what we need to do or have in order to experience more goodness in our lives. “If I could lose 30 pounds, I’d be happier.” What if that’s not the approach that really works for lasting happiness? Being a certain way gets us closer to positivity than always trying to do or have something ever will.
Think about it— if you want to lose weight, try imagining who you’d be at your goal weight. Likely you’d be someone who works out, eats healthy, gets plenty of rest, and doesn’t stress out much. So now you know what you need to do and what you need to have in order to be who you’ve always wanted to be. It’s really that simple.