Using Positive Thinking to Enhance Joy
Our thoughts and our emotions are deeply connected. People were designed to focus on the negative as a safety measure in ancient times when life was more dangerous. We had to recognize a negative change and take steps to deal with it or the consequences could be dire. We are each descended from our ancestors and we carry many of their evolutionary characteristics. One example of this is how easy it is to think negative thoughts.
Research has found that negative thoughts occur much more often than positive ones for most people. The Indigo Girls have a song called Closer to Fine. In it there are these lines: “Darkness has a hunger that’s insatiable and lightness has a call that’s hard to hear.” This line beautifully illustrates the human tendency to focus on the negative.
Practice Positive Thinking
Are you stuck in a dark mood? Can you see only the negative in situations? Most circumstances have a little of both positive and negative in them, but what we focus on influences how we feel about ourselves, our life, and the world around us. Experiencing positive thoughts and feelings opens our awareness and makes it easier to see the whole picture. However, learning to think more positively can really be a challenge. It requires us to be aware of our thoughts and to consciously shift them as needed.
Many psychologists recommend that we try to have 3 positive thoughts for every single negative thought. This provides what is considered a healthy balance. If you have more positive thoughts than that, it’s probably even better for your feelings of happiness with life. But, these can’t be fake thoughts. Yes, you can consciously shift to more positive thoughts, but they must be thoughts that you actually relate to.
One way to start developing a more positive outlook is to practice what is called “positive reappraisal.” The way that we interpret or appraise an event determines if it is a positive or negative experience. If we tend to focus on the problems in life, our feelings about each day will be more negative.
We can change this habit by becoming more aware of our appraisals of events in our lives. Start by thinking of something that is a hassle or something you dread. Once you pick an experience, try to think of it in a more positive light.
For example, once in San Francisco, I was stuck in a traffic jam leading across the Bay Bridge for almost 2 hours. At first I was frantic. Finally, I accepted that no matter how upset I got, it wouldn’t change the facts. So, I got out my notebook and detailed my schedule for the week, I outlined a paper I needed to write, and I wrote my mother an overdue letter. The pleasure of using my time productively helped compensate me for being trapped in the car for 2 hours.
Not that I am suggesting you purposely get in a traffic jam; only that the next time you do, use your mind to find creative ways to feel more positively about the event.
Frequently practicing positive thinking will lead to it becoming more of a habit that comes to your rescue the next time you are faced with adversity.