Your emotions provide information about how life is going for you. Most people, most of the time, don’t need to override negative feelings. They need to pay attention to the information they’re receiving from those feelings and respond to it. That’s a positive approach.
There are times when negativity really doesn’t help and even harms. That’s when added positivity can make the biggest impact. Positivity may sometimes include intense positive emotions, but more often includes subtle feelings such as open-mindedness, curiosity, empathy, contentment, optimism, generosity, harmony, kindness, compassion, wisdom, perseverance, flexibility, and belief in others.
Positivity isn’t 100% positive. It’s more like 75-90% positive, over time. You can be positive and still have some difficult moments and even some bad days. The point is that you can respond to life instead of trying to control it. And you use your wisdom to help build positive habits that feel good, but ultimately, help you and the people around you enjoy more health, greater success, stronger relationships, and even longer life.
Barbara Fredrickson, a positive psychology researcher, calls positivity the experience of positive emotions such as gratitude, serenity, love, and more. Experiencing enough of these on a regular basis can be transformative and leads to flourishing by broadening awareness, building our strengths, and helping us become the best versions of ourselves. She makes distinctions about the most useful forms of positivity, that which is:
- natural vs. artificial,
- spontaneous vs. insincere, and
- harmonious vs. obsessive.
The latter are less useful, but most people can benefit from experiencing more of the former.
Depending upon your current habits, here are three times when increasing your positivity matters most:
- THE PAST. If you’re a habitual ruminator: someone who mulls over every mistake you’ve made, every embarrassment, or every perceived slight or criticism from others, every hurt feeling or moment of anger you’ve experienced, every frustration, etc., you’re in danger of making yourself depressed. Start shifting your thoughts – toward positive re-framing, such as accepting mistakes or criticisms as opportunities to learn and make better choices, or to design your life so you get to do more of what you’re good at and surround yourself with supportive people who believe in you. Caveat: If you’re moderately to severely depressed, positive thinking may not be enough. But cultivating honest positivity is a healthy habit.
- THE PRESENT. If you’re a chronic complainer: someone who is never quite satisfied, who is disappointed by less than excellence in every area, who does battle with every moment and maybe even with every other human, you’re wearing yourself out and everyone around you. Complainers are drainers. They also can be toxic and literally harm their own health and that of those around them. We all have a negativity bias that makes it easier to notice the bad than the good, and when we are stressed, this tendency gets even stronger. Problem is, the more we focus on what we don’t want, the more we get what we don’t want. Moreover, people start to avoid us. Don’t be a drainer. It takes discipline to start noticing what’s going well and appreciate it, but it is well worth the effort. Even if the only positive in your life is that you’re breathing, that’s better than the alternative!
- THE FUTURE. If you’re a constant worrier: you’re trying to control the future, you’re using a costly and ineffective tool. Worry is not a plan. Worse, worry tends to make us anxious and anxiety is one of the most common mental illnesses. Again, if you’re chronically anxious, try imagining what you want instead of what you don’t want. Then ask yourself how you could create it. If you need more resources to get there, start building them. If you’re worried something will go wrong, plan how you’ll handle it in advance. These tools can help you develop your confidence so fear doesn’t get the better of you. Over time, you’ll feel better and have better outcomes, too.
Add more positivity to your outlook on life- about the past, the present and the future!