In the last few weeks I have been thinking a lot about morale, about what it takes to feel ok when so many around us are struggling and bad news seems to be at every corner. Originally, I thought folks would be looking for practical solutions targeted at building specific skills. And those are still very much needed.
But what seems to be in greater demand is hope.
Hope has become endangered by our disappointment and resultant cynicism towards our governments, the scarcity, powerlessness and fear caused by this economic crisis, and the rampant excess and imbalance that distorts our search for fulfillment. Things have become so complicated and our lives alongside them such that many are not sure who they really are or what they really want. It is hard to have hope in such conditions but without hope, positivity is impossible. And without positivity, quality solutions become even more difficult to achieve.
The search for happiness has become a kind of Holy Grail – coveted yet often obtuse and seemingly far away. And the farther away it gets from our daily lives, the more coveted it seems. Countless books and resources tout countless theories on positivity, optimism, fulfillment and the like. We are told things like “like attracts like” and that it all comes from within…notions rooted in truth but often oversimplified and applied superficially. And the “how” in maintaining positivity and hope can be difficult to wrap one’s head around, particularly in the face of long-term difficulty and loss.
I don’t know the answer. And I don’t think there is one.
But I would like to take the opportunity here to propose some ideas and hear your own thoughts.
What IS positivity?
Like with most things, we seem to better understand what it is NOT.
- It is not always being happy.
- It is not pretending that real life challenges do not exist and affect us.
- It is not faking happiness and thus failing to present our true selves.
- It is not bottling difficult emotions.
- It is not making others happy while forgetting our own need and right to be well.
While this helps, it still fails to get to the heart of the matter. So let’s propose a definition.
Positivity is an attitude: it is an internal dedication to believing that good things are just as possible as anything else, that we are worthy of them and that making them a reality is up to us, first and foremost.
- It requires the understanding that positivity is inherently an internal decision to not give into negativity, even while acknowledging our challenges and feeling difficult emotions.
- It requires accepting ourselves and reality as it is, and not as we wish or think it – or we – should be.
- It is about employing personal innovation – the openness to consider a wide range of possibilities and the creative work required to break old stories and beliefs in order to develop new, innovative solutions for positive change.
Like anything else, positivity is a muscle. In the beginning the work required to shift one’s perspective may feel hard, counterintuitive, even forced. But once you practice and start to feel results, it takes on a life and progress of its own and becomes easier. This does not mean never suffering again but rather carrying a deep-set understanding of the rhythms of life, the transience of difficulties and the ability to affect our perspective within them.
What else do we know about Positivity?
- It’s internal – we create the interpretations around what we experience. Our brains are magnificent tools. They can hijack us into destructive spirals as much as they can allow us to appreciate simple pleasures like beautiful music, a tasty meal, a wonderful conversation. We often feel that these experiences happen on their own but they can be intentional decisions of what we choose to focus on. The ultimate questions are:
- How does your current perspective serve you?
- What is more worth it to you: to suffer or to feel good?
So how can you shift your perspective? Start by deciding to acknowledge and then throw out negativity, guilt, shame, and fear. Put them in a box and file them away. You can always go back to them if you want to. But know that while it’s completely ok to have down times and painful emotions, if they conquer you, there is little you can do to attract positive new possibilities for you and those around. Just decide for a moment that you will experiment and see the good in what comes, then let’s see what happens.
- It’s contagious – if you choose to surround yourself with positive people and things, it will ultimately have a positive affect on YOU. In difficult times these may feel harder to find but they will always exist if you choose to look for them. Positive people are everywhere, as are life’s little gifts. Intentionally look for the kindnesses in your day, bestowed to you by life and those around you. There will likely be many.
- “Like attracts like” – this concept has been cited all over in recent times but often misinterpreted in that if you superficially recite your wishes, they will magically come true. We all know that repeating “I will win the lottery” a hundred times will not work. The idea is rather that we transmit, even unwittingly, what we feel and think and that has consequences, for better or for worse. If you are negative, always complaining without looking for solutions, or expecting external factors to change your reality, others will feel it and it will probably not inspire them. But if you can truly commit to making positive change and the work behind it, to recognizing goodness around you even while admitting your struggles, you encourage others both by your perspective as well as in connecting to you and your goals. These are the positive consequences of “like attracts like” but we need to commit to them first.
- It’s physical – crazy as it sounds, if you force yourself to smile, laugh, take on confident postures, and ACT in a positive way, it can make you feel better. These have been proven time and time again and are particularly known to actors and athletes who need to perform – and convincingly – regardless of how they feel. The key is not to “fake it” but acknowledge what is difficult and choose to move through it. The next time you feel down, dress fabulously, walk with confidence, and smile because you are worth the good energy, not out of obligation. Everything may not turn out perfectly, but it may be much better than you expected.
What else can increase Positivity?
- The perspective of time can be a helpful factor:
- Past – look at all the times you have triumphed over difficulties and the disasters and tragedies that humanity as a whole has overcome. It will pass, if you choose to let it. By the way, what is in the past, is closed. We are bound to make mistakes and once something is done there are only two options: correct them if possible and/or learn from them. Usually just making a concerted effort to do this can go a long way towards recovering our stability.
- Future – after months and years, how much will you really remember of this? What will be the most important thing – if anything – that you take away? Life is long, so steer the big storms, not every little wave.
- Present – so many things happen to us every day that bring relief, happiness, pleasant surprise, and hope. Instead of rushing to the next thing you have to do, can you just sit in that little moment and appreciate it? Maybe it’s a sunny day, maybe someone said something nice to you, maybe you have a free moment…little “gifts” are everywhere.
- Health habits – we have heard this incessantly but there is real truth to it. We need physical, mental, and emotional energy to combat difficulties and see positive possibilities. Excessive alcohol, caffeine, nicotine, sugar and poor diet overall contribute to increased anxiety and depression. Lack of sleep is also a powerful negative trigger. Exercise, even in small but regular amounts goes a long way towards calming our nerves, improving our mood, and making us feel better about ourselves. We are not talking about taking drastic measures, just making small adjustments that in the long run can have powerful positive affects. The key here is not to improve these habits out of fear, obligation or guilt but rather with a conscious, positive desire to feel good. What small health adjustments could make you feel better, and better about yourself?
- Laughter, play and fun – there is no mystery as to why we enjoy the things we like and that give us pleasure. Unfortunately not all are good for us but there are many that are. No matter what obligations we have, without some regular “play time” to disconnect from challenges and reconnect with ourselves and the simple joys of life, optimism is difficult. We are entitled to these and they are necessary to maintain our energy and inspiration to see things positively. What simple pleasures give you joy and how can you make some time in your busy schedule to include them? Just think that it is not just for the sake of enjoyment but also as a necessity to keep you at your best.
- Be your true self – when we spend too much of our lives acting in ways counter to who we really are, what we really think and feel, and doing things we don’t like, it strains our belief that we, as we are, deserve good things in life. It also becomes connected with our self-respect and self-esteem. Some of my clients cite the reality of having to play different roles in different relationships and situations as a challenge to this notion. And this is fair and legitimate, but it is not the same as being inauthentic. You do not speak the same to your child as to your client or to your parent. And we ourselves, are multifaceted beings, full of different abilities and sides to our personality. The question is whether you are hiding your true self or acting like someone you are not. How do you know the difference? The answer is in how it makes you feel. If you feel stifled, artificial, or simply “wrong” in those situations, it’s likely there is something fundamental about you that you are denying. In some circumstances, they may be situations that we have to deal with for a time, like a work relationship. But even in such cases, there are ways to keep your balance nevertheless. However, if this is prolonged or represents the majority of your livelihood, it will catch up to you eventually. In the end, the best chance we have of connecting to the people and opportunities that can make us happy is to show who we really are. Where in your own life can you better align your reality with your real self and desires?
- Just do it – often times what impedes our positivity are tasks and situations that we dread dealing with. As we avoid them, they grow and gain greater power over us. Next time you feel this, try to say “Ok, I don’t feel like doing this but I’m tired of it weighing on me and I’m worth more than that. So let’s get it done and celebrate afterwards”. I heard someone say once “don’t let it rent space in your head”, and that is what these things do when they sit, fester, and latch on to us as we go through our lives. Just do it, face it, and create more space for good stuff to come. What have you been dreading and how would you feel once it is resolved?
- Acceptance – life is not just supposed to be happy, pleasant, and easy. If it were, we would quickly become complacent, bored, and stagnated in our development. If we can really come to recognize this, we can also come to learn how to accept, endure, and breath through difficult moments. We can, because we are THAT strong and capable. Often times it is not until we survive and overcome life’s challenges that we really see our potential and possibilities. Better yet, many failures and struggles can be the perfect catalysts for even greater triumphs…if we choose to see the opportunity. How would you act if you were exactly where you needed to be? If your current challenge was the key to your next big success?
Share your thoughts and experiences with us and feel free to contact me to explore ways of boosting your own positivity.