We've all heard it before: "Stay positive, look on the bright side — don't let things get you down." The fact of the matter is it's way easier to say it then to actually train yourself to be more positive. Interestingly enough, the reason for this could be tied into our biology as humans.
According to a study featured in the The Review of General Psychology and the New York Times, negative thinking is likely a huge factor in why humans survived as a species, since our ancestors who were more attuned to the dangers and bad things around them were the ones more likely to survive and pass on their genes. Basically, we may very well be programmed to have trouble seeing the positives in life and looking on the bright side.
The problem with negative thinking is that studies also show that this type of mindset and outlook on life can adversely affect our health. According to a study published in the Public Library of Science, negative thinking and self-blame can be the main predictor of many mental health problems, and research featured in Mental Health America states that it can even have a negative impact on our lifespan.
Basically, staying positive doesn't just make us happier, but it could actively be helping to keep us healthy. That being said, here are seven ways to help you look on the bright side if you're going through a tough time or are prone to anxiety or negative thoughts.
1. Rid Yourself Of Negative Thinkers
In a piece on training yourself to be more positive, Dani Dipirro, founder of PositivelyPresent.com and author of The Positively Present Guide to Life, Stay Positive: Daily Reminders from Positively Present, urged readers to distance themselves from people who brought negativity into their lives. "As a negative person, I attracted negative people. When I decided to make the change to live a more positive life, I had to rid my life of the most negative influences in it. No one is perfect — and perfection isn’t the goal when it comes to positivity — but there were people in my life who were consistently negative, who constantly brought me down, and I had to stop spending so much time with them," Dipirro said.
2. Share Positivity With Others
Dipirro also said it's important to treat others with positivity in order to feel positive yourself. "Be nice to other people, no matter what. Tell someone s/he looks nice today. Tell someone s/he did a great job on that presentation," Dipirro said. "Send flowers. Write notes. Don’t gossip. Be kind to all living things."
3. Search For The Silver Lining
According to Mental Health America, a nonprofit devoted to mental health issues, looking for the positives in a negative situation can actually completely change your perspective on the situation at hand. They recommended asking yourself questions like, "How have I grown from this situation?" and "Are my relationships stronger now?" These questions help you reframe the negative thing that is happening into something that actually offers positives.
4. Practice Gratitude
Mental Health America also strongly recommended practicing gratitude each and every day, and noted that "Noticing and appreciating the positives in our lives offers a great mood boost." They suggested writing and sending a letter to someone who you are grateful for in your life, or writing down "anything large or small that makes you smile, including terrific achievements, touching moments and great relationships."
5. Separate Fact From Fiction
Travis Bradberry, emotional intelligence and leadership writer, said it is important to separate fact from fiction when thinking about negative aspects of our lives in an article for Forbes. He recommend writing down exactly what you're thinking in order to evaluate its veracity.
"You can bet the statements aren’t true any time you see words like never, always, worst, ever, etc. Do you really always lose your keys? Of course not. Perhaps you forget them frequently, but most days you do remember them. Are you never going to find a solution to your problem? If you really are that stuck, maybe you’ve been resisting asking for help. Or if it really is an intractable problem, then why are you wasting your time beating your head against the wall," Bradberry said. Be mindful if you're stressing out about something that isn't true or hasn't happened yet.
6. Pick A Positive Thought
Bradberry also recommended picking a positive thought to focus on when the negative thoughts are getting you down, enabling you to switch gears away from the negative. "In these moments, think about your day and identify one positive thing that happened, no matter how small. If you can’t think of something from the current day, reflect on the previous day or even the previous week. Or perhaps there is an exciting event you are looking forward to that you can focus your attention on."
7. Move More
As much as I, a non-exercise-lover, hates to admit it, there is a ton of research that links daily exercise to improved mood and lower rates of depression. According to Michael Otto, PhD, a professor of psychology at Boston University in an article for the American Psychological Association, "The link between exercise and mood is pretty strong. Usually within five minutes after moderate exercise you get a mood-enhancement effect." So if a situation is weighing you down, a little movement may help you recenter.
Looking on the bright side can be really, really hard in the moment. The good news is there are actual effective strategies for staying positive, and — most importantly — feeling better overall.