Thinking Positively

“We are beckoned to see the world through a one-way mirror, as if we are threatened and innocent and the rest of humanity is threatening, or wretched, or expendable. Our memory is struggling to rescue the truth that human rights were not handed down as privileges from a parliament, or a boardroom, or an institution, but that peace is only possible with justice and with information that gives us the power to act justly.”

——John Pilger
Australian journalist, writer, scholar, and filmmaker

Are you a glass half-empty or half-full sort of person? Studies have demonstrated that both can impact your physical and mental health and that being a positive thinker is the better of the two. Sometimes, having a positive outlook is one of the hardest things to do. One just needs to look at the news to feel depressed and hopeless. Whether it’s from a natural disaster like a hurricane or a wildfire or it’s the hate filled politics of the current Trumpism of the Republican Party. Every time politics is mentioned especially something done by either the Democrats or those Republicans who opposed the former president, the Republicans trying to find the favor of the former twice impeached and disgraced president seem to be diametrically opposed to it. They don’t seem to care how much it would benefit their constituents, how sensible or scientifically proven it is, or even if it was a policy they previously supported. The current climate is nastier than I can ever remember it. The world continues to see deaths from COVID due to the delta variant, and it seems to go ignored by those who refuse to support science or believe in helping their fellow man simply to follow the lunatic ravings of one madman. 

It is all so disheartening and depressing. What can we do about it? If we dwell on it and allow it to consume us, we are only seeing the world through a one-way mirror and the hopelessness consumes us. We must make a change in our outlook before we can make a change in the world. We must turn to positive thinking and heal ourselves first. Jesus reminded those in the synagogue in Nazareth (Luke 4:23) of a Greek proverb, “Physician, heal yourself!” The moral of the proverb in general, containing within itself also a criticism of hypocrisy, is to attend to one’s own defects before those in others. If our defect is negative thinking, then we must heal that first. Positive thinking isn’t magic, and it won’t make all of our problems disappear. What it will do is make problems seem more manageable and help us approach hardships in a more positive and productive way.

The first thing we can do is to focus on the good things in our lives. Challenging situations and obstacles are a part of life. When we’re faced with one, focus on the good things no matter how small or seemingly insignificant they seem. If we look for it, we you can always find the proverbial silver lining in every cloud—even if it’s not immediately obvious. To follow this up, we should practice gratitude of what we have. Practicing gratitude has been shown to reduce stress, improve self-esteem, and foster resilience even in very difficult times. Think of people, moments, or things that bring you comfort or happiness and try to express your gratitude at least once a day. 

Comedians who often tell stories instead of just telling jokes often say that humor is all around them and they find their stories in everyday situations because they open themselves up to the humor of life. Instead of dwelling on what can go wrong, they focus on how to find the humor in the situation. Studies have found that laughter lowers stress, anxiety, and depression. It also improves coping skills, mood, and self-esteem. Be open to humor in all situations, especially the difficult ones, and give yourself permission to laugh. It instantly lightens the mood and makes things seem a little less difficult. Even if you’re not feeling it; pretending or forcing yourself to laugh can improve your mood and lower stress.

One of the most important things, and something I have been doing more of lately, is to spend time with positive people. Negative people will only pull you down into their negativity. Positivity and negativity have been shown to be contagious. Consider the people with whom you’re spending time. Have you noticed how someone in a bad mood can bring down almost everyone in a room? A positive person has the opposite effect on others. Being around positive people has been shown to improve self-esteem and increase our chances of reaching goals. We should surround ourselves with people who will lift us up and help us see the bright side.  Two songs come to mind, the jazz classic, “On the Sunny Side of the Street,” and the country/bluegrass classic, “Keep on the Sunny Side.” The latter song tells us, “It will help us every day, it will brighten all the way, if we keep on the sunny side of life.”

We also need to not be so hard on ourselves. We tend to be the hardest on ourselves and be our own worst critic. Over time, this can cause us to form a negative opinion of ourselves that can be hard to shake. To stop this, we need to be mindful of the voice in our head and respond with positive messages. Research shows that even a small shift in the way we talk to ourselves can influence our ability to regulate our feelings, thoughts, and behavior under stress. We need to identify the areas of negativity in our lives. We should take a good look at the different areas of our life and identify the ones in which we tend to be the most negative. If you are not sure what those are? Ask a trusted friend or colleague. Chances are, they’ll be able to offer some insight. A co-worker might notice that you tend to be negative at work. A close friend may notice that you get especially negative while driving. Tackle one area at a time.

We can also drive away the negativity in our lives by starting every day on a positive note. There are several ways we can do this. We can create a ritual in which you start off each day with something uplifting and positive. We can tell ourselves that it’s going to be a great day or any other positive affirmation. We can listen to a happy and positive song or playlist, or we can share some positivity by giving a compliment or doing something nice for someone. We can’t undo years of pessimism and negative thoughts overnight, but with some practice, we can learn how to approach things with a more positive outlook.

About Joe

I began my life in the South and for five years lived as a closeted teacher, but am now making a new life for myself as an oral historian in New England. I think my life will work out the way it was always meant to be. That doesn't mean there won't be ups and downs; that's all part of life. It means I just have to be patient. I feel like October 7, 2015 is my new birthday. It's a beginning filled with great hope. It's a second chance to live my life…not anyone else's. My profile picture is "David and Me," 2001 painting by artist Steve Walker. It happens to be one of my favorite modern gay art pieces. View all posts by Joe

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