We’ve all heard rosy quips about how thinking positively can lead to greatness in or our lives. Fortunately, there’s a reason. Research shows that focusing on what’s going right in your life breeds more happiness than stewing over circumstances you can’t control. Studies have also confirmed that adopting a more optimistic outlook may add years to your life.
“Positive feelings can help you resist long-term stress, lower blood pressure and reduce your risk of chronic disease,” says Lisa MacLean, M.D., a psychiatrist at Henry Ford Health. It’s also contagious. So if you’re optimistic and upbeat, chances are good the people around you will become more positive, too.
Optimism: The Art of Keeping it Positive
Staying optimistic against a backdrop of bad news, financial stress and 24/7 demands can be a challenge. But there’s good news: You can train your mind to be more positive. Here, Dr. MacLean offers seven strategies to help shift your mind to a glass-half-full mentality:
- Focus on the positive: When a negative thought comes to mind, don’t avoid it. Notice it. Then flip it to the positive and make a statement. So instead of saying “I’m terrible at speaking Spanish,” say “Every day I make progress with Spanish.” Do this on a regular basis and you’ll create a mind filter to trap negative thoughts before they can take root in your subconscious.
- Savor: When good things happen in your life — a beautiful day, a promotion, a compliment from a friend or loved one — press the pause button. “Take a mental photograph of the moment, focusing on the most joyful aspects, and then share your experience with others,” Dr. MacLean suggests. Immersing yourself in those feelings of pleasure can help you call back the experience when you need a pick-me-up.
- Practice gratitude: Thinking about what you’re grateful for acts as an instant mood booster. Some people write in a gratitude journal. Others keep a jar of “thanks” on the counter where they leave notes of appreciation for family members. Dr. MacLean recommends a daily “three good things” exercise: Ask yourself, “What three things went well for me today?” and answer the question, “Why did these good things happen?”
- Connect with others: When it comes to relationships, quality is more important than quantity. Identify the people in your life who lift your spirits and make a commitment to spend more time with them. Negative thinkers tend to isolate themselves in difficult situations, which can lead them to ruminate about their worries.
- Fake it: The mind and body are inextricably linked. Struggling to adopt a positive outlook? Start with your body. Stand tall with your shoulders back and chin held high. Then smile. Carrying yourself with an assertive, powerful posture is an instant mood lifter. You can even do a social experiment and smile at strangers. Chances are good they’ll smile back. That can lead to a positive connection, even if only for a moment.
- Give back: Studies consistently show that people who give back and help others are healthier and happier. Try this: Perform random acts of kindness for seven days and see if you experience enhanced health and well-being. Want to pursue something more concrete? Find a cause you’re passionate about and research long-term volunteer opportunities.
- Seek joy: Take time to be in the moment and focus on the things in life that bring you joy. Turn on some music and dance in your living room. Take a bubble bath. Plot out your next vacation. Most important, cut yourself some slack and embrace these three clichés:
• Don’t sweat the small stuff
• Got lemons? Make lemonade
• Stop and smell the roses
Turn Up the Positivity
Happiness starts with you — not your job, relationships, bank account or social status. It’s a mindset that relies on your attitude. Facing a rainy day? Slip on your rain boots and play with your kids in the rain. See your bank account dwindling? Come up with ways to make and save money. People who adopt a positive outlook are not only happier, they’re more resilient, too.
“While you may not be able to change outside circumstances, you can choose how you react to them,” says Dr. MacLean. The next time you’re on a negative mind trip, close your eyes and transport yourself to a place and time that brings you joy. You may be surprised by how quickly your outlook shifts.
If you continue to struggle with negativity or find that negative thoughts are interfering with your ability to function in daily life, seek help. Talk to your doctor or find a therapist.
To find a doctor or therapist at Henry Ford, visit henryford.com or call 1-800-HENRYFORD (436-7936). If you’ve had thoughts about ending your life, reach out for help. Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
Dr. Lisa MacLean is a psychiatrist specializing in adult ADHD treatment at Henry Ford Behavioral Services in Detroit. She is also the director of physician wellness for Henry Ford Health, using her expertise to help doctors optimize wellness and find balance by teaching them healthy coping strategies so they can better serve their patients.