Want to feel better in every way? Get positive.
Science has shown that believing everything is ordered for the best improves health, lightens mood, lengthens life and boosts performance. The mindset is important enough to have spawned programs or departments at universities, including Harvard, Yale and the University of Pennsylvania. Many schools even extend offerings to non-students.
For example, Penn has a program rooted in optimism it’s administered to hundreds of thousands of people in health care, the military, corporations, professional sports and other fields. Also, through Coursera, anyone can take Penn’s Foundations of Positive Psychology, a specialization that shows how to “apply key concepts from positive psychology to your personal and professional life.” Same goes for The Science of Well Being, the Coursera version of the most popular class in Yale’s history, Psychology and the Good Life.
As you’ve probably guessed, turning from a grump into an optimist takes work (those Yale and Penn courses should help). In the meantime, here are six tried-and-true ways to put yourself on the path to feeling positive:
1. Get moving.
You’ve heard it before and it’s still true: Physical activity makes you feel better. Doesn’t even have to be exercise, per se. Just moving around does the trick. A 2017 study with more than 10,000 participants showed physically active folks were happier — and happier in the moments when they were more physically active. When you’re happier, it’s easier to view the world more favorably.
2. Be grateful.
Gratitude reminds you to see the glass as half full, not half empty. “When I find myself leaning toward the negative, I’m usually focusing on things that are going wrong,” says Mandy Stogner, a health and wellbeing consultant at Colonial Life. “In these moments, I pause and make a quick mental note of the things that have gone right.”
3. Seek out encouragers.
Complainers suck — and they suck your energy. If you yourself are a downer, spend time around someone who’s not. “We all have people in our lives who build us up when we’re having negative thoughts,” Stogner says. “Connect with your encouragers regularly in difficult times. And be sure to be an encouragement to others.”
4. Be present.
“Practicing mind-body therapies like breathing exercises and yoga can help calm anxious moments and give you the opportunity to redirect your mind away from negative thinking,” Stogner says. Slow and steady breathing is a natural elixir. And mindfulness, a hallmark of the aforementioned practices, makes you more aware of what you’re doing and feeling so you can better choose how to approach and react to situations.
5. Hang out near a waterfall, beach or rocky stream.
Okay, okay. Those might not be easy for everyone to get to. But if it’s just rained — better yet, if a thunderstorm and lightning have passed through — head outside. You’ll reap some benefits from negative ions, which are mood boosters particularly in high levels, according to studies.
6. Get hugged.
If you’ve been in an argument — or think you might get into one — a hug on the same day can foster positive feelings. A 2018 study showed getting hugged by just about anyone you consider part of your social or family circles eases the pain of interpersonal conflict.
Journalist Mitra Malek regularly creates and edits content related to wellness, including for Yoga Journal, where she was a senior editor and is now a contributing editor. Connect at www.mitramalek.com.