Friday, May 29, 2020
It has been said that humans have a negativity bias that causes us to focus more on things that scare or threaten us than on information we find positive or uplifting. Likely this is due to our hard-wired “fight or flight” response. We’re living through a period right now where that has become in-your-face evident with the super-saturated coverage of COVID19 and the effect that coverage has had on our general anxiety level.
When you’re feeling a bit blue, a lot discouraged, or overly anxious, it can seem that nothing good will ever happen again, but you don’t have to be stuck there. A bit of a perspective shift can do wonders for your mental health. You can train yourself to stay in an attitude of optimistic expectation as much as possible.
Benefits of optimism can range from greater emotional and physical health, reduced stress and possibly an enhanced effect on longevity, to a boost in goal achievement and satisfaction. Harvard Health Publishing (1) states that optimism can positively impact overall health and well-being.
Many years ago an older friend told me that happiness is a choice. I argued that happiness is an emotion and you can’t choose your emotions, they just happen. Life has taught me otherwise since then. Think of how you’ve felt in the past when expecting a specific ‘wonderful’ event such as a long-anticipated vacation, the birth of a child, the start of an exciting new job, the imminent achievement of a cherished goal, that first kiss with someone new. It doesn’t matter if the event has already happened, you can still access that feeling. Try bringing that feeling into the present and notice how you feel. Accessing those feelings may be much easier than trying to convince yourself that something good is just around the corner. In this case, your mind will start to throw up objections since it’s still dwelling in the negativity of the present moment of fear or self-doubt. It’s harder to still these thoughts until you have evidence to the contrary. So, why not choose to feel the way you want by revisiting a pleasant moment from the past? It’s not living in denial, it’s not putting a sticker over something, it’s not wishing on rainbows and moonbeams, it’s deciding, choosing to feel that way.
What else can you do to cement that feeling into place?
First, try to see how smiling more can shift your mindset! Have you noticed how even strangers’ faces tend to brighten when you smile at them? That’s such a small gift you can give someone and yet it can mean so much to another person, especially if they’ve been having a bad day. At the same time, you’ll be doing something good for yourself too. Smiling actually causes physiological changes in the body and brain by reducing stress and increasing positive emotions and feelings of joy.
Another way is through words and thoughts. Find a few affirmations that resonate with you or create your own and repeat them to yourself several times a day.
Look for positive, happy things; they happen all the time and you may be surprised at how many you find.
Look for beauty and allow yourself to feel grateful for it. Gratitude is heart-expanding and helps to support the optimistic feeling you’re now holding.
Most importantly, avoid spending too much time hoping that something good will happen. Hope sounds like it’s optimistic, but too often it masks the opposite. Instead, try feeling as though that good thing is happening right this minute. Does that seem too contrived? Consider this: your feelings are shaped by happenings in the external world all the time – by the news, by advertising, by family and friends, by social media, by politicians, by celebrities, by music and movies and tv shows. Choose to take control and use your feelings for your own benefit. Choose happiness. Choose optimistic expectation. Choose joy. You hold the power.
What methods do you use to change your feelings for the better? What has worked best for you? What hasn’t?