In recent years, we hear about being positive as a major aspect of happiness and success. Most people want to be positive, but don’t know how. When I talk to people about being positive, they say that they learned at school how to read and how to do basic math, they learned how to ride a bike and help at home, but no one ever taught them how to be positive. Therefore, it is one thing to understand why it is important to be positive, but another thing to actually be positive.
This is why I tell people that I should call my program Happy Being instead of Be Happy, because first we need to understand that happiness is important and then we need to learn how to be happy – how to make it a state of being.
Research done in North Carolina by psychologist Barbara Fredrickson has found out that being positive is important not only for our immediate success but also for long-term happiness.
Lions and snakes
When we have negative thoughts, we activate the primitive brain. Over there, all we see are lions and snakes that are a threat. Our body goes into a “fight or flight” mode and shuts all other thinking mechanisms in order to focus on the threat in front of us. Thinking, analyzing, evaluating, prioritizing, connecting, thinking creatively and considering efficiency are all luxuries that the brain is unable to do while under threat.
Happiness does not reside in the primitive brain, so it is important to notice when you go there. If you are scared, angry, aggressive, withdrawn, anxious, worried or upset, you are in the primitive brain. Your body has taken over your mind and you are out of control.
Take a deep breath! Try to think of something good and happy. Go to a happy place in your imagination. You need to convince your brain that what is happening to you is not a real lion and not a real snake. Only after you do that, you can change your emotional state and start thinking clearly.
Happy thoughts make you see more opportunities
Professor Fredrickson tried to find out what happens to people when they watch videos that stimulate various feelings.
- Two of the groups saw a video stimulating good thoughts and feelings.
- One group watched a neutral video stimulating no feelings.
- The next two groups watched a video stimulating fear and anger.
After watching the videos, participants were asked to imagine themselves in the same situation and write down what they would do. Those who watched the happy videos thought they had many more options to explore than the rest of the groups did.
This shows that when you are thinking positively, you see more opportunities. Whatever happens to you, ask yourself, “What is the good thing in this situation?” When you ask it enough, you will notice that even bad situations create many opportunities. Seek and you shall find!
Positive thoughts make us learn better
Learning always starts with not knowing. If we knew how to ride a bike, we wouldn’t have to learn it. Children naturally have positive thoughts, which is is why they can fall off the bike over and over again and keep on trying. I call it “the Thomas Edison mentality” – try and try and try and try again!
Those who try again have a huge advantage over those who are defeated by challenges or totally give up when things don’t go their own way. Once we learn to ride a bike, we will not remember the pain, the bruises and the disappointment, only the results. So if you are worried about the pain and hard work of learning something, remember that when you get what you want, all you will have is the results.
I learned this when I gave birth to my first daughter. I was in the hospital with many other mothers. Some of them experienced horrible pregnancies and horrible deliveries. One very experienced woman said to me, “They will all forget the pain, otherwise no one in the world would have a second child”.
Whatever you want achieve, when you get there, you’ll forget the pain, so don’t worship it or give it too much attention. It is part of the process. Learn from it and move on!
How to be positive
OK, I promised I would also give tips and not only explain why it is important to be positive, so here are 10 ways to adopt a positive mindset. Each of them will move you forward, so my suggestion is to use as many of them as you can. Some strategies will be better than others, but you have to try them all to find which ones are best for you.
- Mediate! Fredrickson showed in her research that meditation was very effective in becoming positive. Lots of research has been done on how meditation helps people be more effective at work, be more creative, have better sleep and less illness, have more focus and be more aware and more friendly. It is easy to mediate. Find a meditation that is good for you and just do it. I teach kids to mediate and it only takes a minute. You don’t really need to pay a fortune or read millions of experiments. Try one strategy for 3 weeks and then you’ll know what works for you.
- Make a list of 100 things that make you happy. Post it where you can see it every day. Read it every day and give yourself the happiness you deserve. The only way to be happier is to make yourself happier by doing more of the things that make you happy. Happy people are more successful. When we are happy, we feel like we can conquer the world!
- Every day, write 3 good things that happened to you today. Much research was done on the power of the focus. If our brain searches for good and happy things that happened to us today, it will find them. If we do it over 3 months, the brain will be trained to see more and more happiness and success in our life. No cheating. Write them down and do it every day. It will increase your positive mindset and you will see good more than ever before.
- Fun is an amazing incentive. When we play games and do things that make us laugh, even if they are silly, it makes sure our primitive brain does not take over. Games, fun and laughter reassure our mind that we are NOT under threat. Go there often!
- Accept and appreciate yourself, because self-judgment is like looking in the mirror and convincing yourself that what you see in the reflection is a snake or a lion. Learn your traits, skills, abilities and use more of the good ones and less of those you don’t like. If you think highly of yourself without trying to be what others want you to be, you will be more content and able to develop and learn without fear.
- Set goals. Goals are a very good way to calm the mind as it feels more like going towards something than randomly browsing in a jungle. Seneca said, “If one does not know to which port one is sailing, no wind is favorable”, so if you are a ship sailing in the ocean and you don’t know where you are going, you will be at the mercy of the waves. If you know where you are going, you can adjust your sails to your advantage.
- Choose the beliefs you want to have. If we have positive beliefs about life and about ourselves, we have a positive attitude towards life. I give my clients an activity to write down 100 beliefs they would like to adopt and read them every day. I do this with kids and they respond brilliantly to it. Ask yourself, “What do happy people believe? What do successful people think? What do wealthy people think? What do friendly people think? What do leaders think?” Then, come up with what would work for you. If you want to be a leader, adopt leadership beliefs, if you want to be kind, adopt kind thoughts. Never settle for what you already think, because you can’t solve problems using the same mindset that created them in the first place. Einstein said that, not me! He was one of the smartest people, so I adopt his mindset when I aim to be smart. What about you? I also use quotes to adopt beliefs and there are millions of them around. You can make a list of your favorite quotes.
- Hang around positive people. Being positive is contagious, just like being negative. We have a function in the brain that mirrors other people’s feelings, so if you hang around an anxious person, you will be more anxious. If you spend time with someone who is positive, happy and friendly, you will mirror those behaviors and feel more positive, happy and friendly. My daughter used to spend time with great girls whose parents were divorced (just happened to be 5 girls, all of them with divorced parents). They were great girls and we had them over many times, but since their financial state was tough (having to provide two homes), they were very limited financially and could not go to the movies or do fun things during school holidays. Sometimes, they could not afford a bus ride to a place where they could have fun for free. Our daughter stopped doing fun things for a while. Until she found some more friends, she was lonely and spent time at home, chatting with those girls on the computer. So those girls were not negative, but she mirrored their feelings, which was not healthy for her.
- Work on your negative thoughts and replace them with positive ones, with forgiveness, with action, with courage, with letting go of the past. Most of the negative thoughts are not chosen. We experienced them in the past and we think we have to keep them. We don’t! If something happened to me in the past, it is not a sign it will happen to me in the future. If that was true, great things would also be a sign they will keep happening to us … we wish! So we can change the negative interpretation of what happened to us. Remember that positive thoughts take you forward and negative thoughts take you backward. Your brain is like an apartment building. Don’t give any room to defeat, disappointment, pessimism, catastrophe, sadness and failure. I ask some of my clients to write down a list of all the negative thoughts and feelings and we burn them or burry them together.
- Be grateful! Gratitude is the ability to see good and appreciate it. Being grateful is as state of mind. This is why in many cultures, people say thank you for the food, for being healthy, for having a roof over our head. It helps us not take things for granted. Make a list of things you are grateful for and when you need a boost of positives thoughts, read that list or make it bigger. I once wrote down 100 things I was grateful for. It made me really happy to know that I was so fortunate. It is a good lesson in perspective.
Being positive is an easy formula to be happy and successful. Most people think they need money or time to be happy and successful and they don’t. They need the right attitude. If you are not lucky to be born to parents who taught you how to be positive, you are still lucky.
- Because you went to school and learned to read. Otherwise, you wouldn’t be able to read this post
- You have a computer. Otherwise, you wouldn’t be able to get to this site
- You have the time, or you would be doing something other than reading right now
- You have your eyesight, and if not, at least you have a screen reader
Keeping a positive mind will bring you lots of happiness and success. You have the power to choose what you think and if you think about it positively or not, use this power and your life will change fast.
Be positive. Be happy!