10 Ways to Think More Positively
In a scene that’s arguably one of the funniest in cinema, a leading character in Monty Python’s Life of Brian sings, “When you’re chewing on life’s gristle, don’t grumble, give a whistle, and this will help things turn out for the best… Always look on the bright side of life.” What makes the scene funny is that the character is hanging on a cross, seconds away from death, surrounded by dozens of others who also are being crucified. The catchy melody has the entire doomed group tapping their feet and joining in the chorus.
Silly though that scene is, it also contains some real wisdom. One study after another confirms that having a positive attitude promotes health. In fact, a study of 70,000 women published just a few months ago in the American Journal Of Epidemiology revealed that those who maintain a positive outlook have a significantly reduced risk of dying from all the major killers, including cancer, stroke, heart attack, infection, and respiratory disease.1 Those with the most positive attitude were 30% less likely to die from any cause compared to those with the least positive attitude. When broken down into specific disease clusters, the risk reduction for the most positive women was 16 percent for cancer; 38 percent for heart disease; 39 percent for stroke; 38 percent for respiratory disease; and a remarkable 52 percent for infection.
In other words, thinking positively is almost as important to health as maintaining a healthy diet and exercise regimen. Here are 10 ways to look on the bright side of life if doom and gloom is your natural state.
1. Use Affirmations. The way we talk to ourselves, the messages we give ourselves minute by minute greatly influence our outlook on life. By consciously changing negative messages to positive messages, we can literally brainwash ourselves into a more upbeat frame of mind. Research shows that affirmations do work to boost mood and improve performance, as long as they’re not too outlandish.2 If the cognitive stretch is too much, the mind might argue with the affirmation and the hoped-for change won’t happen. For instance, an affirmation such as “I have the ability to get an A in this course,” is quite useful. So is “I have abundant wisdom to share.” An affirmation such as “One million dollars will come to me easily and effortlessly within the next three months,” not so much, nor is “I have a genius IQ.”
One note of caution. Research also shows that people with low self-esteem can actually become more depressed using affirmations without the support of psychotherapy. If the affirmation isn’t working, get some professional help. Otherwise, a simple Internet search will yield dozens of books that can help you craft your own helpful affirmations.
2. Use Prayer, either religious or secular. The most well-known example of using prayer to effect a more positive outlook is the 12-step cornerstone: “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” This prayer has brought peace and hope to so many and can be useful, whether or not the 12 steps are relevant to you. If you are a nonbeliever, you can pray to your own higher wisdom or the fates that be for guidance and help.
3. Keep a Gratitude Journal. A wonderful practice that definitely can open your eyes to the better things in your life is to simply keep track of them in a deliberate way. When you wake up in the morning or when you go to bed at night, write down five to seven things for which you’re grateful for that day. At the end of each week, review your journal, and you’ll soon see that no matter how dismal your circumstances, you still have a number of things to cherish.
4. Meditate. One of the best ways to take a break from the worries and negative thoughts assailing you is to simply stop thinking for a while. Meditation is like taking a short vacation from the mind’s obsessions. And like an actual vacation, a break afforded by meditating allows you to come back to your life with a fresh perspective.
5. Exercise…tai chi, chi gung, yoga. Any kind of exercise can distract the mind from its obsessions, but energy-based exercises may be particularly useful. Tai chi, chi gong, yoga, and the like direct the attention to the flow of energy inside the body. Being in close touch with your life force makes it more difficult to stay in a dark mental space.
6. Take a break from the news. No matter what side of the political spectrum you are on, the news can be depressing and can lead to plenty of doomsday-type thinking. You really don’t need to know about every stupid thing a politician says, nor about every murder or death or theft in your city. As you know, the news focuses on the most dramatic, frightening, and worry-provoking things in order to hook you into watching the rest of the report or reading more of the story. It really is okay to give yourself a break.
7. Listen to what you love. Like meditation, music has the power to help the mind get over itself. Music has enormous power to energize and uplift. When you feel frightened or negative, listen to half an hour of Bach or the Beatles or Bob Marley or whatever makes you feel happy to be on the planet. Listen to what you love and positive thoughts will follow. On the other hand, you might want to avoid music that is sad or depressing. I had a friend who, every time they were depressed, listened to a Joni Mitchell album. She loved Joni Mitchell. She never understood, though, why she was even more depressed after listening to the album than before. Sad!
8. Share feedback with your partner. Make it a daily ritual to spend 15 minutes with your partner offering and receiving appreciation, even if you’re fighting. You can also use the time to talk about whatever feelings you’re experiencing. Not only will you develop greater intimacy, but you’ll also find that life seems a whole lot brighter.
9. De-Clutter. Make a list of the top 10 annoyances that you haven’t had time to fix or deal with. Then, make a commitment to tackle one annoyance each week until you’ve finished clearing up your entire list. Examples of annoyances might be things such as the broken light in your garage, the pain in your ankle when you run, the pile of papers from 2012 that still need filing, all those email lists that you need to unsubscribe from. It may seem trite, but it really is true that a cluttered life helps sustain a cluttered, unhappy mind.
10. Surround yourself with positive images. Choose artwork that inspires you. If everywhere you look in your home and office ignites joy in you, it will be much easier to stay on the sunny side.
As a final note, it’s probably worth mentioning that Jon Barron has frequently said that the most important chapter in his book, Lessons from the Miracle Doctors—and the one that is least understood—is the one that examines this very topic, titled: “It’s the Thought that Kills.”
- 1. Feldscher, Karen. “How power of positive thinking works.” 7 December 2016. Harvard Gazette. 2 March 2017. http://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2016/12/optistic-women-live-longer-are-healthier/
- 2. Williams, Ray. “Do Self Affirmations Work? A Revisit.” 5 May 2013. Psychology Today. 2 March 2017. https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/wired-success/201305/do-self-affirmations-work-revisit