You wish that you could be happier? But you find that it’s getting harder and harder. You’re getting busier, and sometimes you can get so bogged down in the nitty gritty of life that you forget to take a breath. Even young people are experiencing it, with over 75% of mental health issues occurring before the age of 25.
Negativity is a widespread problem
Life’s better than ever in the 21st century – yet more and more people are reporting job dissatisfaction and stress as major reasons for not being happy. What most of us don’t realise is that being positive is a choice. We have to do a mind shift to see how truly lucky we are and let ourselves feel some gratitude. It’s easier said than done because our brain is built for survival, and that means it looks out for problems to avoid. If unchecked, we can find ourselves becoming negative and disillusioned with our lives, because all we see are the problems, and no one wants to feel like that.
Since positivity doesn’t come naturally, you have to practice it if you want to make it part of your life. You have to build a positive circuit in your brains that offsets the negative one. Because being positive is a head game, it’s a radical internal shift – no amount of money, luck, looks and prestige is going to determine how positive you are. It’s a decision that you have to make for yourself – because being positive means less stress, more fulfilment and more happiness – and, who doesn’t want that?
It can be daunting to force yourself to be positive when all you see are the problems in your life. So, here are 5 research-backed strategies to help you get going.
5 strategies to beat negativity
1. The PARE strategy
Use the PARE strategy, which means ‘Personal Agency and Realistic Expectations’. Look, no one knows what’s really going to happen in the future, and this is a major cause of stress. But, we can choose to have confidence in our own choices and in our own agency, and we can learn to trust ourselves to make the best decision we can, with the information we have. After all, you’ve gotten yourself this far, right?
You can’t help it that you're programmed to fear loss and pain. And this can drive you into a state of inaction most of the time because you just don’t want to take the risk. Worst of all, if you've failed at something important in the past, you're going to avoid similar situations at all costs. When you reframe, you shift your brain from looking at the problem in your head to the opportunity in front of you. So, focus on the opportunity, not the pain.
Here’s an example: a rejection letter from your dream university sucks. But, you can reframe that painful situation as an opportunity to gain a year of valuable work experience. A relationship breakdown is painful, but it’s an opportunity to find yourself and learn about what you really desire.
3. Record your triumphs
By now, you know that your brain likes to focus on the bad stuff because it wants to keep you safe. When you focus on the potential dangers of life, you can forget how far you've come and how much you've achieved. That’s why it’s important to record your triumphs and your wins. Write them in your journal and take a video and a picture. Compile these moments into a folder on your computer called ‘My wins’. When you feel negativity creeping up, your ‘My wins’ folder becomes an invaluable resource to re-centre and realign your perspective.
4. Practice gratitude
Gratitude is like a gateway drug to happiness. And, it’s the cure for materialism and our ‘hedonic adaptation’ tendencies. What’s hedonic adaptation you say?
Hedonic adaptation is the tendency of people to quickly move down to their normal level of happiness despite major positive events in their life. This means that stuff, achievements and events don’t make us happier – because happiness is a choice that we have to make every day. And, the best way to make that choice is to practice regular gratitude.
When we practice gratitude, we don’t feel fear and stress, because we’re creating a completely different circuit in our brain.
Try this today by asking yourself some gratitude evoking questions:
I’m grateful for the love and support of ...
I’m grateful for the opportunities that I have, such as …
I’m grateful that I don’t have to …
I’m grateful to myself because…
5. Try to do one kind thing every day
As much as people may tick us off; we’re social animals. This means that we need to be around people and interact with them in a meaningful way for our own mental and physical wellbeing. In fact, studies show that relationships are key to living a happy and long life.
“…studies have found that the quality of these relationships has been linked to healthier behaviour, lower incidence of chronic illnesses, higher levels of happiness and lower mortality.”
Showing kindness is one of the best ways to build relationships and release serotonin in your brain. This is the chemical responsible for social bonds and feelings of love and kinship. Being kind to others makes you happier and more positive – it’s an important part of social cohesion that can sometimes be forgotten in the busy corporate world that we live in.
No one is expecting you do go out and start performing grand gestures, that’s creepy… Just start by doing one small thing for one person every day. Buy someone a coffee, give a compliment, or give your time and energy to help someone else. You’ll be happier, they’ll be happier – and best of all, you’ve made the world a better place.