You have probably heard these ‘catch’ phrases before from people trying to cheer you up when you are going through a low patch: “Look on the bright side of life.” “Stay positive.” “Every cloud has a silver lining.” “Don’t let them grind you down.”
According to research negative thinking may have had a huge influence on why humans survived as a species since our ancestors who were more attuned to the dangers around them were the ones more likely to survive and pass on their genes. Therefore our default mode may be to focus on the negatives and seeing the bright side of life may take more of a conscious effort and practice to create a new habit.
The problem with negative thinking is that studies also show that this type of mind set and outlook on life can adversely affect our health. When you worry, your body responds to your anxiety in the same way it would react to physical danger. To help you cope with the physical demands you are about to ask your body to perform, your brain releases stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol into the bloodstream. They trigger a range of physical reactions that will equip your body for action. Over a prolonged period of time, raised levels of these chemicals can start to have a toxic effect and you may become more prone to infections. Therefore, looking on the bright side of life doesn’t just help us to feel happier but it could be actively keeping us healthy. Here are seven ways to help you to focus more on the positive:
1. Spend time with people who have a positive outlook on life
Do you feel the energy drain out of you when you spend time with people who are constantly focused on the negative and what’s going wrong in the world? If so, redress the balance and start spending more time with friends, family and colleagues who have a positive outlook on life as this will help raise your energy levels and lift your mood.
2. Share positivity with others
Take every opportunity to share something positive with people you come into contact with every day. For example, if you think a colleague gave an excellent presentation, share your thoughts with her. Tune in to people’s strengths and share what you have noticed about what they do well.
3. Search for the silver lining
When you experience a challenging situation ask yourself “What have I learned from this experience?” “What will I do differently next time?” “How has this made me a stronger person?”
4. Separate facts from fiction
Challenge yourself when you use words like never, always, worst, ever, etc. Do you always lose your car keys? This is unlikely. Perhaps you forget where you put them sometimes. Are you never going to find a solution to the problem? If you are stuck, have you been resisting asking for help? Or, if it really is an intractable problem, why are you banging your head against a wall?
5. Practice Gratitude
Recent studies have found that the expression of gratitude can have profound and positive effects on our health, our moods and even the survival of our marriages.
Here are three simple things you can do to build positive momentum to help you to look on the bright side of life:
- Keep a daily journal of three things you are thankful for. This works well first thing in the morning, or just before you go to bed. A friend found this very helpful when her husband was going through chemotherapy.
- Make it a practice to tell a spouse, partner or friend something you appreciate about them every day.
- Look in the mirror when you are brushing your teeth, and think about something you have done well recently or something you like about yourself.
6. Choose a positive thought
When negative thoughts are getting you down 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 few days or week. Or perhaps there is an exciting event you are looking forward to that you can focus your attention on.
7. Move more
Most of us know that regular exercise is good for our body. But exercise is also one of the most effective ways to improve your mental health. As well as releasing endorphins in the brain, physical activity helps to relax the muscles and relieve tension in the body. Since the body and mind are so closely linked, when your body feels better so, too, will your mind. Research shows that regular exercise can have a profoundly positive impact on depression and anxiety. No matter your age or fitness level, you can learn to use exercise as a powerful tool to feel better.
I appreciate that looking on the bright side of life can be really hard when you are going through challenging times. The good news is there are effective strategies you can use to help you to stay more positive, and most importantly – feeling better overall.