We all know them: Those authentically positive people who are happy with their lives and themselves and fun to be around. We can see that their lives aren't perfect and yet, there they are, upbeat, unbroken, and resilient. They're not in denial about life's ups and downs or ignorant; they have accepted what is, but won't accept that that's all there is. They know themselves, know what they want, and strive for it. This attitude and way of being are what I call "realistic positivity."
I've been a therapist in Santa Monica for over 35 years, and I've learned that those with realistic positivity keep improving with age — their happiness, health, achievements, and contentedness only grow. But, people aren't born this way; we all have the potential to become like them. I believe realistic positivity is the key to happiness as we age, and there are a few things you can do to become this kind of person.
Realistic positivity is a mindset that helps us to grow better as we grow older and to create a life we love. Realistic positivity means we accept what is, but we don't exaggerate our limitations or the obstacles we face, and we don't underestimate our own capabilities. More and more, science and inspiring individuals are showing that we humans have seemingly unlimited potential.
Realistic positivity means seeing and accepting what is now—both in our inner and outer worlds—and then putting our focus on what we would love.
Try these four strategies for developing realistic positivity:
1. Put your perception in perspective
We often confuse our perceptions with reality. Our perceptions aren't facts; they're our interpretations of events and the conclusions we draw, which often aren't based in reality. To overcome this, I think it's helpful to look at each case's best, worst, and most likely scenario. If the weather report calls for snow, there could be a snowstorm (worst), or sunshine (best), or a regular amount of snowfall (most likely).
Adopting a broader perspective is also helpful. Remind yourself, "It could always be worse." The next time you're feeling low about your life, watch a documentary about people struggling and surviving. It will instantly shift your perception about your own circumstances and give you newfound resolve — if they could get through it, so can you. There is always something you can do to make your situation better, even if it's just shifting your way of looking at things.
2. Set your sights higher than mere solutions
Optimists see possibilities where pessimists see problems. Since what we focus on greatly contributes to how we see the world, these different approaches make a huge difference in our lives. The happier life belongs to those who acknowledge problems (realistic) but then shift their attention to finding solutions (positivity).
You're best off when you put your focus not on just the solution, but also on the vision you want to achieve. You are stronger when you work to create the positive than when you work to fix only the negative. If you are ill, for example, focusing on the solution means looking for treatment. But setting your sights higher means looking for what you want beyond treatment. If you've always wanted to travel to Europe, while you're being treated, plan your dream trip overseas.
3. Use empowering self-talk
Our self-talk influences every part of our life. It either builds up our confidence and self-esteem, which helps us to go after and achieve our goals, or it reduces us and leads us to waste our time and energy going over all the reasons we believe we can't do something.
A key to living your best life is to talk to yourself in a way that reminds you that you are in control of your life and resilient and that you have the capacity to grow and handle challenges.
In your vocabulary, try to replace "have to" with "get to" or "choose to," and replace "problem" with "project." Watch and see how much your attitude and feelings change. Every challenge is an opportunity to learn something about yourself and to become more of the person you want to be: wise, brave, and loving. And remember to acknowledge your efforts, progress, and achievements; this will create momentum — positive self-talk helps you build on your successes.
4. Find inspiration in role models
Looking to people whom you admire and gaining inspiration from them is a great way to change what you believe is "realistic." Through them, you'll see what's possible and gain a new reference point for setting your own goals. If, for example, you've always wished you were more athletic, but you think it's too late to get physically fit, you can look toward Fauja Singh who became a marathon runner at age 89.
These four strategies are a great way to start to shift how you feel about yourself and the world. No matter our age, science shows us that our brains can still be reshaped. With practice and determination, you too can view life with realistic positivity.