By Dr. Alex Dimitriu
The power of positivity is a skill to be developed. Certain simple behaviors and mindsets have the power to improve your mood almost immediately. I know change takes time, and no one expects you to change completely overnight. However, as I tell my patients, it’s good to have some direction and a goal, and any progress is good. So let’s get started:
1. Smile More – Fake Smiles Turn Real
In one study, they had people fill out happiness questionnaires. One group did the questionnaire while holding a pencil in their teeth. You know what holding a pencil in your teeth does? It makes you smile. Smiling people were happier on their questionnaires. Smile more. At yourself, at the person you just passed in the street, and as you enter the next space, be it a meeting or family dinner. (Ref https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/3379579/)In another interesting study, people who were treated with botox on the part of their forehead between their eyebrows should an improvement in depression. Getting botox’d between your eyebrows prevents you from furrowing your brow. You look happier…ok, less worried, in the mirror – and mood improves! (Ref https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33578275/)
A final experiment had people fill in the missing word in sentences. One group had generic missing words, while another group had missing words related to old age. The real test was a measure of how fast people walked down the hallway after the word game. Writing and thinking of old words made people walk noticeably slower. (Ref https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/8765481/)
2. Have Positive Expectations – It Starts In the Morning
Every day is a blessing, and unopened gift of surprises and experiences, endless possibilities. You can decide this day will be awesome from the moment you open your eyes. Yes, you’re scrambling to work and the kids aren’t dressed. But what a good set of problems to have! Try a daily affirmation or positive statement, even out loud, with maybe 3 deep breaths to get grounded, and a smile. “I am so lucky to be alive today.” Your inner cynic may immediately argue – but your inner cynic has also not been a source of happiness for you.
3. Be Open and Flexible. A Beginner’s Mind
Thinking too much is highly effective. As Michael Pollan beautifully describes in his book “How to Change Your Mind,” “The good thing is I’m seldom surprised. The bad thing is I’m seldom surprised.” When you are young, you are an expert at nothing, and the world is full of surprises and possibilities. The sound of the rustling leaves in the wind is magical. As we get older – we accomplish and can handle more, but are surprised less. The rainbow in the distance gets a quick glance as you get back to your phone full of emails. We have systems, and habits, but have lost the sense of wonder and possibility. Work to bring that back.
Anxious and stressed people are notoriously lost in thoughts of past and future. The antidote is to come back to the present. As one philosopher asked his meditation students, “what in this moment is missing??” Another famous philosopher, Seneca, famously observed, ““We suffer more in imagination than in reality.” Three deep breaths help. Slowing down a little helps too…. I know the world rushes you.
4. Have Gratitude, and Journal
Appreciate the people around you. Give genuine compliments, appreciation. Smile. Consider appreciation for your health, job, family. And consider an exercise of coming up with 3 *new things to be grateful for each night. Easy at first, it gets harder to find 3 new things each day after a while – but you end up looking for the much smaller things. That level of scanning for positive things inevitably forces you to find the glasses that are half full, rather than half empty.
5. Talk to Back to Your Fears – Come up with Positive Counterpoints
In the end, you are what you (emotionally) eat. So watch the inputs – the words you say, and the media and experiences you consume. Doom scrolling is a real thing, and misery loves company. People rubber neck at car accidents. All examples of negative inputs you might not need in your life. Catch these, and reduce them as much as you can. Notice if you are “bingeing,” on negative thoughts. You are what you eat. And you feel what you hear (and read!). See more on this here: Bingeing On Negativity
Also become aware of the “mantras,” you repeat to yourself each day, and try to give them a positive twist. Repeatedly huffing about how tough your job is will always have a negative effect on your mood. Try maybe half the time, to see the other side – to appreciate having work, children, people who need you. Catch the negative thoughts, and try to find a positive counterpoint, at least half the time, and see how it goes. You have nothing to lose.
Many stories abound of people overcoming challenging odds to re-emerge victorious. Warren Buffet’s partner, the late Charlie Munger, is no exception, read his inspiring story here: here: hhttps://finance.yahoo.com/news/charlie-munger-lost-9-old-155612903.html.