How to Stay Positive

Human emotions are powerful. From love and joy to fear and anger, our emotions have the ability to impact almost every aspect of our lives and even determine how we respond to life’s challenges. And while it may seem like emotions are beyond our control at times, the truth is that whether we feel good or bad on any given day is within our power. The way you feel on any given day has a lot to do with your perception—how you see things—and not necessarily the events themselves. For example, if you read a news article and think, “This news makes me sad;’ then, chances are you’ll also feel sad for the rest of that day. But what if instead of thinking about the news as “making” you sad, you recognized it as sad but not something you can control or that can control you. Chances are you will remain happier that day. This goes for anything in life. If you change your perception from negative to positive, almost all bad events will seem less challenging and more manageable. This can be accomplished by taking control of your responses and not seeing events as “making” you do or feel something.

How to Stay Positive in a Negative World

Our world can be a challenging place sometimes, and when we are met with negative people, situations, and emotions, it can be easy to fall into negative thinking and feeling. However, as you work to stay positive, it is important to remember that all situations and emotions can be interpreted differently. Although they may appear to be negative, they are only that way if we allow them to be. When we start to view negative events and situations as neutral, we begin to have more choice in how we respond to them and how we let them affect us. Instead of letting negative emotions take over and cause us to fall into a spiral of negativity, we can choose to let them exist, acknowledge them, and simply walk on by.

Practice Mindfulness

One of the best ways to keep your mind focused on positivity is through mindfulness. Mindfulness is a practice that has come from many different cultures and traditions, and it has been shown to provide many positive benefits in mental health, including the ability to stay focused and positive. When you practice mindfulness, you bring your attention to the present moment in an open, non-judgmental way. This helps you to view negative thoughts as just that—thoughts—and nothing more. You can then choose to let them pass through your mind without holding onto them or allowing them to affect your mood.

Commit to Positivity

One of the best ways to stay positive is to commit to it. When you commit to positivity, you choose the importance of your well-being. This kind of commitment can help you to focus on the things that are good in your life and that support your mental health. In turn, this commitment to positivity will help you to overcome negative thoughts and emotions when they do arise. If you decide that staying positive is truly important to you and you are ready to commit to it, you can create your own personal plan to help you stay on track. There are many different ways you can do this, and it may take some time before you feel like you have the right formula that works for you. Make your own small goals to help you practice positivity each day.

Finding Meaning in Everything

When you focus on the positive, it’s important not to ignore the negative, but rather to see it as an opportunity to find meaning. You can find positive meaning in all situations, even those that appear negative. For example, if you lose your job, you can find a positive meaning in it by realizing that now is a time to pursue your dream job or to improve your skills or change careers. If a loved one is diagnosed with a serious illness, you can find a positive meaning in it by realizing that you have a chance to become closer as a family and make the most of the time you have left with them. That doesn’t remove the pain or hardship but it does allow for flashes of joy and learning. Every situation holds an opportunity for positive meaning, and it’s up to you to see it that way.

Conclusion

When you are feeling down or anxious, remember that your emotions are not permanent. It can sometimes be difficult to see this when you are in the middle of a challenging situation, but once you are out of the situation, you will see that you can let those emotions go and move on from them. Remember that your emotions are connected to your perception and that how you choose to perceive situations can have a huge impact on how you feel. When you are faced with a difficult situation, take a step back, take a deep breath, and ask yourself what you can learn from the situation and how you can use that to make your life better in the future. When you stay positive and use your emotions to your advantage, you are better able to cope with life’s challenges and have a more fulfilling life.

The Self, the Other, and Happiness

From my limited but growing experience in therapy I have observed that there is one underlying factor that affects how people behave, think, and feel. Now, this one factor does not discount the effects of other factors but it is a prevalent theme in the lives of many of the people I have worked with in therapy. This factor is what is called self-centeredness, or in other words, selfishness. Any time that people focus on themselves, they cannot focus on those around them. Some people are able to focus on themselves but then switch over to an outward focus. Others are not very good at this. The problem with focusing on oneself is that when external events occur, their effects are all driven inwardly and change is effected in the individual. Over time some people develop dependencies on external stimuli to the extent of exclusion or occlusion of internal, self-driven stimuli. This is what is called an external locus of control. I am not discounting people who have what psychologists call an internal locus of control, which is often viewed as a more positive, internally driven sense of control over life, but the majority of people I have seen in therapy emphasized external events to an extreme extent. That is, they let external events control their lives and thus their emotions, thoughts, and behaviors.

My interpretation of why this occurs in some people is that everything external becomes internalized (i.e., everything outside themselves gets focused inward). If something bad happens at work (the external event), a person might twist it into a reflection of her sense of the worth of her inner self. This means that something negative (even if it was that person’s fault) becomes a reflection of that person’s character rather than simply a negative event (e.g., “I am a failure” versus “I sure made a mistake there!” – notice the difference between the negative self-evaluation and the labeling of a negative event). This is an attack to a person’s sense of self worth; this attack on the self can turn into a vicious cycle of self-defeating blows. Attributing negative events to one’s character is a form of self-centeredness. However, that is only part of the self-centeredness of which I am writing. what I mean by self-centeredness goes beyond locus of control – it is an attitudinal and personal characteristic of interpreting everything as being about oneself. This is not narcissistic personality disorder – it’s not an overt and extreme ‘personality’ characteristic, it’s a learned way of interpreting events. It is relatively mild and probably not even noticeable to many other people (narcissism is obvious) and almost never to the individual.

This selfishness is manifest in the perpetual worrying of the state of the Self instead of the Other. This does not mean that the self-centered one never worries about other people, it means that they are never able to ‘forget’ themselves. I believe that true happiness comes only by forgetting oneself and serving others. One problem with this belief is that some will misunderstand it and spend all their time doing thing for others at the expense of their needs – but that is rare. But one can, on average, spend the bulk of his or her time focused on others instead of on oneself. From my completely anecdotal personal experience, those people who spend the least amount of time thinking about themselves are usually the happiest. The corollary to this is that those who spend the most amount of time thinking about themselves are usually the least happy.

We all make choices. Choice – free will – is not an illusion. We all choose how we react in life – to our thoughts, to our boss, to a spouse, to others. Dr. Barbara Heise stated, “We give up our…right to choose when we say, ‘He (or she) made me angry.’ I encourage you not to give away your right to choose by handing that power over to someone else. No one can ‘make’ you angry. You make a choice to respond by being angry or by taking offense. But you can also choose to make the effort to find out what is really going on with the other person and understand their behavior—or maybe just agree to disagree.” (Source).

We are agents of our actions. We choose our attitudes and most of our thoughts. Every person on earth faces hardships of one kind or another. Some might face starvation or abuse or loss of loved ones. Some might face loneliness or addiction or stress. Some people might face anxiety or depression. But here is the key – we can choose what our attitude will be; we can choose to be happy or sad. Yes, even in depression. The choice of happiness does not mean that we are happy all the time or happy immediately, it means that we will try to respond with happiness throughout our day; it means we will work toward the goal of happiness. I know that most people would say that happiness (as opposed to unhappiness) is always a goal for them but how many people are actively choosing happiness.

The surest way to overcome unhappiness, or even anxiety or a number of other common mental health problems, is by choosing to forget the self and get to work, so to speak. We can choose to be self-centered or we can choose to be other-centered. This choice and action of other-centeredness is the surest way to happiness and peace. That is the intriguing thing about focusing on others – and I mean really focusing on others; I’ve met people who spend most of their time filling the needs and wants of others and who are unhappy; why are they unhappy? They are unhappy because they resented the time spent for others. Many times this resentment was not overt but it was obvious in their speech. But if we are able to truly focus outward towards others, we will find that our self takes care of itself. We get anxious because we are worried about what others think of ourselves. We feel depressed for much the same manner – focusing inward on the self – and interpreting many external events through the lens of the self. That is not necessarily bad when external events are positive but when they are negative, it can lead to depression.

When I was young, my younger brother would on occasion do something that I found annoying. When I protested to my father, he usually replied, “Don’t be annoyed.” That lesson stuck. It does not mean I never again felt annoyed – I do from time to time – but it helped me realize that being annoyed is a choice. What one person might find annoying, another person will not. I do not believe that most people, when they do something others find annoying, are meaning to be annoying; most simply do not realize that they are doing something other people might find annoying. A gentle request that they stop will often solve the problem. Again, the choice is there – choose to not be annoyed. In the same manner, choose to be happy.

I do not mean to minimize the complexities of depression or anxiety but I do not think that we should give away our choice of happiness by allowing others or our biology or other stressors to determine our happiness. I have to admit that I do not believe in determinism, I do not think it exists. If we learn anything from quantum physics it is that there is some level of indeterminacy to basic matter. By extrapolation, this means that even a small uncertainty might affect larger entities, such as neurotransmitters or neurons, or pathways, or beings. Indeterminacy does not equal free will or choice but it is a component of it. I do not believe we should let anything hold our happiness hostage. True happiness comes from focusing on others – note that they are not determining your happiness, you are choosing to focus outwardly and happiness results; not because you are seeking it but because when you focus on others, when you serve others, happiness finds you. You open the door to it and let it in to your life. The choice is there – you can choose to be self-centered and miserable or you can choose to be other-centered and happy. What do you choose?