Embrace a Positive Mindset Backed by Research
Think constructively about the past to gain optimism and hope for the future.
Posted January 1, 2020 | Reviewed by Ekua Hagan
Here are two methods for creating a new mindset. Using a technique from positive psychology, it is possible to create a way of thinking that is based on counting one’s blessings rather than woes.
Martin Seligman, M.D., identified as the founder and father of the positive psychology movement, is credited with developing the "Three Blessings Exercise." In the field of gratitude, Robert A. Emmons, Ph.D., University of California, Davis, is considered an expert on gratitude.
These researchers have developed different techniques to help lift one’s spirit, reduce negativity, and promote health. Each method is valuable and doable. However, it is key that one decides on a plan and sticks with it.
This is a brief look at each concept so that you may decide which best suits your personality and time.
Dr. Seligman: Three Blessings a Day
Dr. Seligman focused on helping people overcome depression. Seligman et al., writing in American Psychologist (2006) stated that positive psychotherapy (PPT) "rests on the hypothesis that depression can be treated effectively not only by reducing its negative symptoms but also by directly and primarily building positive emotions, character strengths, and meaning.”
The research journal paper details pilot interventions and effectiveness that were used in classes “with hundreds of people, ranging from undergraduates to unipolar depressed patients.”
In reading "The Pursuit of Happiness" we find that gratitude and forgiveness were key to combating depression. Seligman provides a means to achieve what he calls the pleasant life by enabling people to think constructively about the past, gain optimism and hope for the future and, as a result, gain greater happiness in the present.”
In this short video link, Seligman points out that this exercise "breaks up depression and increases happiness."
The formula is simple. At the end of the day, in a journal or on your computer:
- Write three things that went well today.
- Identify why you see these as positive.
- Make a note after each positive event as to why this may have happened.
With such a method, one is challenged to think about the positives and their impact rather than just making a list. This work was highlighted in an article in the International Journal of Wellbeing, "Doing the Right Thing: Measuring Well Being for Public Policy."
Dr. Emmons: An Attitude of Gratitude
When we are feeling dragged down by negativity, this is the time when Dr. Emmons would be reminding us, as he did with me during an earlier interview: "Gratitude is an attitude, not a feeling that can be easily willed."
Even if you are not satisfied with your life as it is today, he pointed out: "If you go through grateful motions, the emotion of gratitude should be triggered." He says it is like "improving your posture and as a result becoming more energetic and self-confident," adding that "attitude change often follows behavior change. By living the gratitude that we do not necessarily feel, we can begin to feel the gratitude that we live." (See my post "Finding Gratitude During Challenging Times.")
Here are his four simple suggestions that are attitude boosters:
- Saying "thank you."
- Sending thank-you notes.
- Making gratitude visits.
Emmons is founding editor-in-chief of The Journal of Positive Psychology and author of the books Gratitude Works! A 21-Day Program for Creating Emotional Prosperity and Thanks! How the New Science of Gratitude Can Make You Happier.
UC Davis Medical Center lists 12 benefits of gratitude ranging from reduced stress and a reduction in inflammation in patients with congenital heart disease to "a 10 percent improvement in sleep quality in patients with chronic pain, 76 percent of whom had insomnia, and 19 percent lower depression levels.”
Grateful people are found to be generally happier, with more social connections and fewer bouts of depression. However, being around toxic personalities can be a challenge.
Instead of making New Year's resolutions, consider devoting 3 to 10 minutes a day to embracing a positivity practice to improve your well-being.
Copyright 2020 Rita Watson
Seligman, M. E., Steen, T. A., Park, N., & Peterson, C. (2005). Positive psychology progress: Empirical validation of interventions. American Psychologist, 60(5), 410.