Pessimists and optimists are sure to agree: within each of us, there is an insatiable hunger for happiness. We want progress. We want fulfillment. We want contentment. We want to thrive. Though our outward individual expressions of positivity are different, the process of attaining a broader perspective is quite alike. While there is contrast in our contentful countenances, our humanistic bond strengthens when we put into practice the following ways that have been scientifically proven to increase a positive life. Let’s be partakers in the experiment, shall we?
Choose Your Attitude
While some people are born with a certain predisposition, and we must take into account nature versus nurture, there is space within us to choose. “Anxiety or depression — or happiness and optimism — are forged by both nature and nurture. They are 40–50 percent heritable, which means you may be born with the genetic predisposition. But this also suggests there is a lot of room to maneuver,” says Professor of Social and Behavioral Sciences and Director of the Society and Health Psychophysiology Laboratory at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Laura Kubzansky. Positivity has become a phenomenon to scientists. It is not a switch we turn on for a better mood, but rather enhancing a positive lifestyle is much more a process of choosing to be progressive. We still have a say in the behaviors we can control.
Remember the Good Times and Give Thanks
The first attitude we can own is gratitude. Taking an inventory of what is going well in your life is an instant happy pill. Research from University of California’s psychologist Sonja Lyubomirsky, PhD, and her colleagues shows the results of gratitude after surveying students who recalled what they are thankful for each week. “…Participants who counted their blessings once a week expressed more gratitude and thankfulness and rated themselves significantly happier than before. According to Lyubomirsky in an article on Entrepreneur titled, How to Train Your Brain to Stay Positive, “It’s hard to feel envy, greed, or bitterness when you’re grateful.” Positive psychologist Matthew Della Porta teaches how especially good it is to analyze what is going well around you when faced with challenges. Let your brain “remember a positive event… To help your brain store positive events, reflect on what you’re grateful for and why at least once a week. Write down your blessings, such as the opportunity to pursue a career you love or a family that supports you.” Gratitude is the key to jump starting a positive outlook.
Prioritize Emotional Vitality
A positive mind improves health; a negative mind deteriorates health. There is a direct link between our emotions and our physical body. Harvard’s School of Public Health reports, “negative emotions harm the body.” It has become fact that continued stress and fear changes biological systems in such a way that leads to heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. “Chronic anger and anxiety can disrupt cardiac function by changing the heart’s electrical stability, hastening atherosclerosis, and increasing systemic inflammation.” Catering to stress relief can be demonstrated in exercise, healthy diet, and picking up new hobbies you enjoy.
Intentional Acts of Kindness
Thinking beyond ourselves instantly denies our raging ego and releases the pull of our inward focus. Psychologist Lyubomirsky engaged in a continued studies on happiness. She challenged participants to perform five “acts of kindness” to others in one day. The results proved to spike the wellbeing of the participants significantly. When we become givers, intensified joy surges within us, thus, positivity expands. These acts of kindness will look different for each of us, but the intention is to take the concentration off of ourselves and reframe it around others so that we can exist as a walking blessing. A definition of love comes to mind when considering the principle of serving others, that is, love gives without expectancy of return.
Cultivate the Good in Others
According to Professor Dacher Keltner at UC Berkley and co-director of The Greater Good Science Center, one of the best ways to find a happier life is to celebrate others. Though American, he says his view on positive living is more eastern than western. In the west, “ones view of happiness is to be optimistic, pick yourself up by your bootstraps and do your own thing…but I really find happiness in different sources, like being with and cultivating the good in others.”
One of the most powerful ways we can find positivity is laying our burdens down in rest. Yes, good, really good sleep is crucial, as your brain recharges, your cells repair, and your body releases important hormones, according to The Better Sleep Council. Yet, resting can also be actively doing something that places you at peace. Being creative, playing music, whatever it is that puts you at ease, allow yourself to do that a little more. In The Harvard Business Review, Tony Schwartz shares, “Human beings perform best and are most productive when they alternate between periods of intense focus and intermittent renewal.” Essayist Tim Kreider wrote in The New York Times, “Idleness is not just a vacation, an indulgence or a vice; it is as indispensable to the brain as vitamin D is to the body, and deprived of it we suffer a mental affliction as disfiguring as rickets,” He continues, “The space and quiet that idleness provides is a necessary condition for standing back from life and seeing it whole, for making unexpected connections and waiting for the wild summer lightning strikes of inspiration — it is, paradoxically, necessary to getting any work done.”
There is an unspoken need to rectify the social habits we keep by scrolling through photos of people’s lives on our phones and laptops. It’s an addictive habit and in turn, allows us to drift into a mindset of constant comparison which can be a cruel thief of our positivity. In her book, “The How of Happiness” author and psychologist Sunja Lyubomirsky tells us how to practice positive thinking, and lists “avoid overthinking and avoid social comparison” as one of her top suggestions. Recent studies at The American Psychological Association claim people who frequently use social networking sites explain they “most often had poorer trait self-esteem.” This is not to say anyone who uses social networking sites has lower self-esteem, but it is a bigger picture of how the frequenting of such sites can feed into our habit of comparing.
Since content is a word we may never see on a billboard, one we rarely see advertised anywhere, let me go ahead and remind us what Merriam defines it as. Content: pleased and satisfied; not needing more. Being content actually creates success! Best-selling author and simplicity guru Leo Babauta states, “I think finding contentment has actually driven any success that I’ve found — it helped me get out of debt, it helped me change my habits,” and he admits being content has even made him a better friend. What would it look like to live from contentment and not for it?
Smile & Laugh
Neurologist Dr. Caroline Leaf says, “Did you know that the mere act of smiling could stop a negative toxic mindset? In fact, research shows that smiling a lot helps towards rewiring the circuit in the brain that helps you keep a positive attitude to life!” She reminds us we were designed in such a way that “when we smile with our eyes and mouth…a real deep meaningful smile (called the Duchenne smile), the part of your brain involved in decision-making, intellectual pursuit, shifting between thoughts, and thinking things through rationally becomes stronger and more effective. Simply put, smiling makes you happier and more intelligent!” Also, according to Dr. Jessica Woodward, “Laughter decreases stress hormones, boosting immunity and infection-fighting antibodies. It releases tension and promotes relaxation. It triggers the release of endorphins, which naturally make you feel happier.” We have to let the light in and allow ourselves to express, smiles and laughter are the best medicine!
Positivity is nurtured in forgiveness. In an article published by Raiter Clinic, Dr. Woodward notes, “It takes a lot of energy to be angry with someone. This increases stress and can affect psychological and physical well-being. One way to foster forgiveness is to remember a time in your life when someone forgave you for something you did. You might want to write your feelings down in a letter or journal. Finally, when you find forgiveness, work to hold on to it. Dwell on the positive feelings that come from forgiving.”
With a wide grin or quiet glittering eyes, we can show how a positive lifestyle can be deeply ours by choosing to follow these simple steps. Together, we can share in the process of a discovery to a progressive life. Positive living is for you, if you please.
By Christie Brooke