Here’s something to smile about: Feeling happy benefits more than just your mood. “We’re more empathetic, emotionally tough, and creative. Our relationships improve. Our physical health gets a boost,” says Andrew Shatté, Ph.D., meQuilibrium’s Co-founder and Chief Science Officer. “Happiness is the gift that keeps on giving.”
While less than half of the population identifies as an optimist, positivity is a skill that anyone can strengthen. Being an optimist doesn’t mean you never have another negative thought; it means facing negative events with an open mind and pivoting when things don’t go your way. Here are four ways to be more positive, no matter what life throws your way:
1. Give Yourself a Compliment
interpreting events and outcomes in a positive way maintains your sense of optimism, says Tali Sharot, Ph.D., director of the Affective Brain Lab at University College London.
When something positive happens in your life, take a moment to recognize that it’s a product of your skills and abilities, says Sharot. While most of us are better at beating ourselves up than we are at congratulating ourselves for a job well done, shift this habit by practicing the STAR technique. It’s easy and takes less than a minute:
- Scan for pride: Think of a time when you did something well.
- Tune in: How did you feel? Think about your mind, body, and behavior.
- Appreciate it: Feel gratitude for your actions and the result.
- Ride the wave of positivity: If you can stay in the zone for just 17 seconds, your brain will create new positive pathways.
2. Reclaim Your Day
When something goes wrong, we’re tempted to write the whole day off as bad. But even when it feels like there’s a whirlwind of misfortune outside of your control, the truth is that it’s entirely possible to catch a “bad” day in its tracks—and redirect its path.
If your bus is running late and you spill coffee on your white shirt as you wait, you may think, “This day is a total disaster.” This is called Overgeneralizing, a habitual but inaccurate thought pattern characterized by taking one piece of information and making a general rule about the world, another person, or yourself without enough evidence to support your findings.
You can escape Overgeneralizing by looking at the situation from a neutral perspective: It wasn’t some cosmic force that made your bus late or your coffee spill. These isolated incidents are unrelated and don’t foreshadow the fate of your day. Allow yourself to feel angry or frustrated, and then shift your perspective by thinking about something positive in your life, such as what you’re grateful for or excited about in the future. (See the next tip for why this works.)
3. Make Happiness a Habit
Sustained positivity takes work because humans are naturally negative creatures. “Some animals have wings. Humans had negativity,” Shatté says. This now-outdated instinct can keep us from savoring the good things that happen, because “our brains are so wired towards the negative that we compromise on the positive.”
Make a habit out of consciously scanning for contentment by listing three good things that happened to you at the end of each day. “This goes against our natural wiring, so we have to schedule it and practice it,” says Shatté. Even if it doesn’t seem like there is anything positive available at your fingertips, research shows that just looking for the positive will make you feel happier and more in control of your negative emotions.
Review your list first thing the next morning before beginning your daily routine. Over the course of ten days, Shatté says, this simple technique can rewire your brain so that you’re more attuned to positive occurrences.
4. Surround Yourself with Positive Influences
Social support builds resilience and helps us to take a more glass-half-full view of the world. Stay close to the people that make you feel good, offer encouragement, and lift you up when you are feeling down.
Fortify your healthy, positive relationships by making more frequent connections. Small moments count: Send a quick text that you’re thinking of them. Call to ask how their week is going. Research has shown that hearing someone’s voice is an especially powerful mode of communication that can help facilitate better relationships. Make a standing appointment, whether it’s coffee on Saturday morning or an informal book club on the first Friday of each month. Then, treat this time as you would any other obligation—and make sure to keep it.