Are optimists born or made?
We tend to think of those who see the sunnier side of life as having been blessed with a positive disposition. And it's true that some significant portion of our happiness is probably determined by our pre-set tendency towards melancholy or cheer. But according to science, positivity is also very much a skill you can learn.
Just as you can exercise daily to build your body's capacity for lifting heavy objects, it turns out you can also adopt simple daily practices that will rewire your psychology to tend more towards a positive outlook.
That's according to self-growth expert Megan Wycklendt, who recently took to Fulfillment Daily to outline 10 simple but powerful habits anyone can adopt to shift their mindset and increase their happiness. Here are just a few of her suggestions in brief (along with links to additional resources backing up her claims):
1. Keep a gratitude journal.
I've spoken to a good number of happiness experts, and every single one of them mentions this practice in one form or another: Find a simple but structured way to force yourself to count your blessings. Wycklendt endorses it too, explaining that "science has found that gratitude can significantly increase your happiness, and protect you from stress, negativity, anxiety, and depression."
Why is gratitude so powerful? Apparently, being thankful literally rewires your brain to help you more easily see the positive in life.
2. Practice being rejected.
This might sound like a crazy idea, but apparently plenty of famous people actually set out to do mortifying things and be ridiculed by others in order to build their self-confidence. According to Wycklendt, this technique has value even if you're not hoping to host a late night show like Conan O'Brien.
"Rejection is a skill," she claims. "Chalk [up] every broken heart and failed job interview as practice, because no one gets to slide through life without being rejected."
3. Avoid complainers.
Complaining has memorably been described as the equivalent of emotional farting in an elevator. Would you willingly stick around for dozens of floors with the guy who clearly ate too many beans for lunch? No, I'm guessing you would not. For similar reasons, you should start making it a habit to quickly exit the situation when others around you start to bitch and moan.
"A study done at the Warsaw School of Social Psychology shows that complaining leads to lower moods and negative emotions, decreased life satisfaction and optimism, and emotional and motivational deficits," reports Wycklendt.
You spend your entire life breathing, so it can be easy to forget just how powerful taking a moment to focus on your breath can be for your psychology. "Our breath changes depending on how we feel," explains Wycklendt. "The great news is that the connection goes the other way, too. We can also change how we feel using our breath."
5. Notice the righteous.
Sadly, we live in a world that gives us plenty of reasons for heartbreak and worry. But even when the headlines present a parade of horrors, there are always glints of generosity, bravery, and the beauty of the human spirit shining through the darkness. Get in the habit of looking for them, suggests Wycklendt.
"In every instance of natural disasters, war, traumatic experience, you will find people rising up, reaching out to each other, and showing raw compassion and love. Hold onto the stories of modern day heroes and selflessness in the times of fear and devastation," she advises.
Check out the rest of Wycklendt's useful post for lots more ideas on how to cultivate a more positive outlook.