Sometimes it feels easier to be a Grumpy Gus—Who has the energy to get jazzed up about everything all the time? But ask yourself, how exhausting is it when you’re around someone else who is constantly negative and complaining? It sucks, right? Nobody wants to be around Negative Nellies that zap everyone's energy. So the question becomes: Do you want to be the kind of person who drains energy or who supplies it? If you want to be an energy producer, you can start by developing a more positive attitude.
Of course, turning off the negative stream of consciousness and developing a positive attitude takes effort. But when we do so, people are more likely to want to be around us, which can make us happier, which makes us even easier to be around, and even happier—an upward spiral of positive emotions that fuel health and well-being (to see your current level of well-being, take the well-being quiz). So let’s talk about the simple ways to develop a more positive attitude.
1. Strengthen the Positive Neural Pathways in Your Brain to Develop a More Positive Attitude
It can feel impossible to just flip some magic “positivity switch” and change everything about how you feel, think, and act. That’s because—let's face it—the positive pathways in your brain haven’t been used all that often and are a bit out of shape. But after spending the last year researching and writing my new book, Outsmart Your Smartphone, I'm convinced that there are plenty of ways to boost positivity—there are even ways to do it on your phone!
One way to get started strengthening the positive pathways in your brain is to spend more time thinking about positive things, for example by memorizing and recalling lists of positive words. When you force your brain to work with positive information, you activate these regions of your brain and make this information accessible in your daily life. So later, when you're trying to have a positive attitude, you may be able to generate positive thoughts, memories, and emotions more easily.
2. Look for the Silver Linings to Develop a More Positive Attitude
People who struggle to have a positive attitude are really good at one thing—finding the downside of any situation, person, or thing. People with a positive attitude do the opposite—they can always find the upside. Really, these two perspectives are just two sides of the same coin. It’s all about what you pay attention to. So if you want to change your perspective, you can apply your canny ability to find the bad to develop your ability to find the good.
To start, anytime you are down about anything find at least one benefit. Ask yourself: What could you learn? What opportunities might arise? What can you appreciate about this? Could the situation have been worse? Then use these questions to get yourself to start finding the good things instead of always focusing on the bad things.
3. Practice Random Acts of Kindness to Develop a More Positive Attitude
We don’t have to be giving, generous, and caring every moment—I mean cmon, we’re not aiming for perfection here. But if we want to develop a positive attitude, we do have to make an effort to be kinder to others. Sometimes it’s easy to be kind—for example, when we feel like others deserve it—and sometimes it’s harder. So start with easy kindness and go from there.
Being kinder can be easy if you engage in random acts of kindness. A random act of kindness could be anything from telling a co-worker you like her necklace, to congratulating a friend on an important achievement, to bringing a cup of soup to a family member who has the flu. These acts are small and unsolicited, but they show that you care—a significant part of what it means to be a positive person.
4. Smile and Laugh and Generally Enjoy Life to Develop a More Positive Attitude
A positive attitude is made up of more than thinking and acting in positive ways. It’s a feeling that others can detect in you when you don’t take life too seriously. Maybe you smile big when someone tells you there's food stuck in your teeth. Or you laugh when things don’t go your way. You have made the decision to enjoy your life, regardless of what life throws at you.
Deciding to enjoy life more is a key step in developing a positive attitude. You could get upset when your friend repeatedly shows up late—or you could just decide not to. You could get anxious about your romantic partner leaving you—or just choose to spend your energy enjoying their company for as long as you have it. You could get angry about all the horrible things happening all over the world—or you could instead focus on righting the wrongs you see.
It’s surprising what a difference it makes in your life when you simply decide to be more positive, and you realize that you had the choice all along.
Fredrickson, Barbara L. 2000. "Cultivating positive emotions to optimize health and well-being." Prevention & Treatment; Prevention & Treatment 3 (1):1a.
Siegle, Greg J., Frank Ghinassi, and Michael E. Thase. 2007. "Neurobehavioral therapies in the 21st century: Summary of an emerging field and an extended example of cognitive control training for depression." Cognitive Therapy and Research 31 (2):235-262.
Wadlinger, Heather A., and Derek M. Isaacowitz. 2008. "Looking happy: The experimental manipulation of a positive visual attention bias." Emotion 8 (1):121-126.