Do you ever feel like whatever you do, you just can’t catch a break? It seems to be just one thing piles on top of another, and it just doesn’t stop. Sometimes life can feel like we are part of that old joke–is that light at the end of the tunnel or is it the oncoming train?
It’s pretty safe to say that we all have periods like this. There may be a few people out there who are eternally optimistic and happy to face whatever challenge is in their way. I actually know a couple of people like this–life never gets them down, and they always see the best in things. It is almost as if the negative side of life just doesn’t exist for them. Unfortunately, I, like most other people I know, am not like that.
I may not be the eternal optimist, but I also know that I do not want to be someone who only sees the worst in a situation. Like all things in life, there has to be a balance between the positive and the negative.
For the last few years, I have been studying ways to create more positive situations in my life.
We have two basic choices in this world. We can choose to languish, always expecting the worst that could happen and being frozen by fear and negativity. Or we can choose to flourish, looking for the best that could happen, taking action inspirited by natural interest and curiosity. It seems like a simple choice, but the truth is, it’s one that is not as easy as it seems.
When we are in a negative frame of mind, it can be very difficult to break free from the cycle of fear and insecurity that dominates our thoughts. We tend to move in a downward spiral, hence the feeling that we can never catch a break.
The opposite is true when we focus on the positive side of things. When we feel warmth and confidence that positive emotions generate, we begin to move in an upward spiral. Suddenly, it can seem like we have a winning lottery ticket–everything starts to go our way.
So if bringing positive emotions into our daily lives helps to brighten our outlook and improve our quality of life, how do you do it? Especially if your natural tendency is to want to rear-end the jerk who just cut you off in traffic?
The answer: bit by bit. It is difficult to change your own characteristics and outlook, but it is not impossible. After all, our minds like the status quo. Maintaining things as they are keeps us safe, but it doesn’t help us to grow or improve our situations. Introducing more positive emotion on a daily basis will slowly help to change the spiral and begin moving the needle in a positive direction.
No one is saying that you will be able to find good in every single situation, or ignore bad things when they happen. Critical thinking is still a part of survival on this planet, and positive emotions shouldn’t override that. But positive emotions can help your critical thinking observe the whole picture, and not just focus on the worst case scenario.
Don’t try to stop yourself from being irritated at that driver. Just don’t carry that irritation into the office with you. That won’t get you anywhere but stressed. I try to feel compassion for that driver. He must be more stressed and behind schedule than I am, so I wish him the best and continue on my way.
I admit, two years ago that would not have been my honest reaction.
The amazing thing about positive emotions is that they build a reserve of strength to draw from when bad things happen. We all feel good things throughout the day, but we don’t always take the time to notice it. When we live thoughtfully–taking time to acknowledge the positive emotion when it happens–we can better deal with problems as they arise. The power of positive emotions, just like that of negative emotions, lingers long after we recognize.
When you build a base of positive emotions, you open yourself and your world to the possibility of even greater positivity. In her book, Positivity, Dr. Barbara Fredrickson refers to a meta-analysis of over 300 different scientific studies of positivity. The analysis shows “that positivity produces success in life as much as it reflects success in life.” In other words, positive emotions are just as responsible for making a successful life as success is responsible for making you feel positive about your existence.
So the choice is up to you. You can choose to languish, trying to make it through each day or you can flourish, making the most out of each day you are given. One way to do that is to introduce more positive emotion into your personal landscape.
Challenge yourself for thirty days. Find the positive aspects for at least three challenging situations each day. Write them down and acknowledge them and the positive emotion they create. Also record the difficulty level of each day from one to ten. Average the difficulty level after two weeks. Do the same at the end of the second two weeks. Is there decrease in the average level of difficulty?
My guess is that you will begin to find life a little easier to navigate even after just thirty days. Just imagine the change after ninety days!
Try it and let me know what you think. I would love to hear how this works for you.
Ready to make that change? Connect with me for a free consultation to see how we can work together to make your possibilities a real part of your life.
Positivity, Barbara Fredrickson, Ph.D, 2009
Flourish, Martin E. P. Seligman, 2012