If your happiness is dependent on circumstances, there’s a good chance you’ll go through the majority of your life unhappy. If everything around you needs to line up perfectly in order for you to see the world in a positive light, it’s time to make a change.
As a human, it’s been programmed deep within you to focus on negativity. We are far more quick to experience sadness, anger, disappointment, and frustration than we are to feel positive emotions like joy, gratitude, and serenity.
We are drawn to tragic stories and images, and we harp on unpleasant interactions and sights. Positive moments that are sprinkled throughout the day are quickly forgotten.
Luckily, we have the power to change this. We can train our brains to focus on positivity, and with the power of positive thinking, we’ll attract even more positivity into our lives. While this may sound a little woo-woo at first, there is concrete evidence, and scientific studies back up the claim that positive thinking can create a real impact on our lives. It has the power to improve your health, your work, your relationships, and your entire life.
How Negativity Limits Us
Negative emotions are all-consuming, and there’s a scientific explanation for this. Way back in the days when humans were hunters and gatherers living in the wilderness, each day was filled with real threats to our lives. Our survival instincts helped to save us from becoming a hungry lion’s lunch.
When faced with a life-threatening situation, fear kicks in. It narrows all of your thoughts down into this one pivotal moment: fight or flight? You have no room in your brain to get creative; you must make a decision as quickly as possible to save your life.
This is what all negative thoughts do. Fear, anger, frustration, sadness, disappointment—they take over the brain, shutting out all other options, forcing you to focus on negativity. When something bad happens, it completely consumes you, and you become wrapped up in a narrative in which all hope is lost.
Negative thoughts essentially kill creativity. They narrow down your thought process and prevent you from being a creative problem-solver. You quite literally becoming narrow-minded and are unable to think outside the box when negative thoughts consume you.
When you’re stuck in a cycle of negativity, it can be hard to break free. Because negativity breeds more negativity, it continues to impact your overall mental health and cause your self-esteem to plummet.
Not only do negative thoughts create a mental block, but they also affect your physical health. Stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline that are meant to be released in response to a life-threatening situation for self-preservation are instead chronically high.
Stress hormones help us in times of real danger by slowing down or pausing other systems in the body, like the immune system, the digestive system, and even functions such as bone formation. On the other hand, it shoots your blood pressure way up to get you into a high-alert mode and ready to react. It’s easy to see how chronically high levels of cortisol can lead to some serious health problems long term.
Positive Thinking: The Key to Happiness, Success, and Popularity
Isn’t it funny how we harp on negative thoughts, yet we are intrigued by and drawn toward positive people? That’s because positive people tend to be more creative, more energetic, and more successful overall.
Positive psychologist Barbara Fredrickson came up with a concept called the Broaden-and-Build Theory, based on observations that she made on the impact of positive thoughts. She found that when people experienced positive emotions, such as joy, contentment, and gratitude, they had a broadening of momentary thought-action repertoires. In other words, those who experienced positive emotions in her study were the people who came up with more solutions, resources, and responses to theoretical problems. (1)
People who think positively see more possibilities in life. They tend to be more adventurous—to step outside their comfort zone and try new things. Every new experience helps to build skills: socially, physically, creatively, and academically.
The discovery and exploration of new skills create a sense of fulfillment and happiness, leading to even more positivity. In this way, we can understand how positivity breeds positivity. Just like negative thinking creates a cycle that can be difficult to break, positive thinking leads to a whole cycle of its own (one that we don’t want to break).
Positive thinking can improve your life in just about every aspect. Your health, your relationships, and your career will all thrive on positivity. So that begs the question: how do you increase positive thinking in your life?
Tips to Increase Positive Thinking
It may be difficult at first, but you can rewire your brain to think positively. Thanks to neuroplasticity—the brain’s ability to adapt by reorganizing itself through new neural connections—you can literally change the structure of your brain and train it to go the positive route over the negative one.
All it takes is some mind and body work to form new habits of positive thinking. Here are a few ways to do that.
RELATED: 10 Habits of Successful People
1. Practice Gratitude
Gratitude is a major component of happiness. It grounds us, puts things into perspective, and floods our brains with the “happy chemical” dopamine. By the law of attraction, the more things we’re grateful for, the more things we will have to be grateful for.
There are many ways to practice gratitude. You can:
- Keep a gratitude journal. At the end of every day, write down a list of things you have to be grateful for that happened that day.
- Nurture your relationships. Show how grateful you are for your friends and family by picking one person each day to connect with. Send that person a loving and encouraging message or email, or give them a call and ask how they’re doing.
- Appreciate nature. Each time you go outside, notice one thing in nature and take a few seconds to observe it and appreciate it.
2. Be Aware of Negative Thoughts and Turn Them Around
Instead of allowing negative thoughts to fester and just waiting around for positive moments, turn neutral or negative thoughts into positive ones.
When you hear about a tragic event, think of all the ways that medicine and technology have advanced to help us avoid even more tragedies. When someone gets on your nerves, remind yourself that you have the power to react in any way that you choose. If someone cuts you in line, consider all the reasons they may be in a rush, and be grateful that you are aware and considerate of other people’s time.
3. Use Positive Language
Making simple changes in your vocabulary can help you to think positively and to influence those around you positively. Words are valuable, so make each one count. Compile a list of positive words and phrases to use, and focus on a new one every day until they become a natural part of your speech.
4. Be Kind
When you extend kindness toward other people, you will feel happier and less stressed. It can start with something simple, like smiling or holding the door open for a stranger. Eventually, you’ll see that the more kindness you extend toward others, the more inclined you will be to see the good in people and give them the benefit of the doubt.
Of course, you need to take time for yourself each and every day to reflect, practice gratitude and mindfulness, and de-stress. People who meditate daily think more positive thoughts than people who don’t. If meditating doesn’t do it for you, try yoga—it has many of the same effects as meditation.
The power of positive thinking is immeasurable. Your health, social life, career, and well-being will all be affected positively if you can learn how to harness the power of positive thinking. You may be surprised just how far you can go with a positive attitude.