We are often faced with challenging situations that we can't necessarily change, but how we view them is under our control. How we feel is all about our perspective. Doing things to improve our attitude can help us respond more effectively when the going gets tough.
1. Write down three things you're grateful for - We can always think of things, even when we're down, that we appreciate; a beautiful sunset; a smiling face; our pet. In positive psychology research, gratitude is strongly and consistently associated with greater happiness. Dr. Martin Seligman, a psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania, researches the impact of positive psychology interventions. He has found that expressing gratitude exhibits a huge increase in happiness scores.
2. Surround yourself with uplifting people - We've all been around those people that seem to drain our energy, feel manipulated, or even bullied. By choosing to limit our time with those people and actively spend time with friends and family that are a joy to be with, our mood will improve.
3. Say positive affirmations to yourself - The way we talk to ourselves really makes a difference.Instead of saying things like, "I can't", "It's too hard", or "I'm not good enough", say things like, "I can do this", "breathe", "I'm okay". Research indicates that positive self talk creates positive results. An analysis of 32 different studies of self talk in sports indicates that the specific words we use when talking to ourselves also play a role in how well we perform.
4. Plan activities that you enjoy - Even if you don't have time to take that vacation right now, or go fishing, or just hang out with some friends, making a plan to do so will give you something to look forward to and lift your mood.
5. Get some fresh air - According to a study from the University of Michigan, nature walks are linked to enhanced mental health. Exercising outside instead of at the gym has also been shown to improve how you feel. Doing things like biking, hiking, or running outside have been shown to decrease depression.
Albert Ellis, famous for developing rational emotive behavior therapy, explained that "how" people react to events is determined largely by their "view" of the events, not the events themselves. If we can change our perception of things, we will change how we feel. This was really driven home to me when I had the following experience: I was with a friend who asked if we could stop by his cousin's house so he could drop something off. When we arrived, there was a father with his two sons on the front porch. The two boys were behaving quite badly and I was judging them a little in my mind, along with the guy's obvious lack of parenting skills. After the kid's were out of earshot, the dad said to me, "Please excuse my boys - we just came from the hospital - their mother is dying of cancer and does't have much longer to live". In that instant, my entire perception of those boys and their father completely changed. I went from feeling judgmental to feeling such compassion for them.
Greek philosopher Epictetus said, "People are disturbed, not by things (that happen to them), but by the principles and opinions which they form concerning (those) things. When we are hindered, or disturbed, or grieved, let us never attribute it to others, but to ourselves; that is, to our own principles and opinions." By changing what we believe, we change how we feel.
Gabriele Oettinger, a professor of psychology at NYU and author of “Rethinking Positive Thinking: Inside the New Science of Motivation”, talks about using a hybrid approach that combines positive thinking with realism. She describes mental contrasting: imagining your goal has been accomplished and then imagining the obstacles you may face in aspiring to accomplish it. In a study she conducted on healthy eating and exercise, she divided participants into two groups: Members of one group engaged in mental contrasting and then performed a planning exercise designed to help them overcome whatever obstacles stood in their way. Four months later, members of this group were working out twice as long each week as the control group and eating considerably more vegetables. They also found that people who engaged in mental contrasting recovered from chronic back pain better, behaved more constructively in relationships, got better grades in school and even managed stress better in the workplace. Even though we cannot always change our circumstances or the situation at hand, we can control how we perceive it and do things to improve our outlook.
I write about human behavior, meditation, body awareness, and a variety of other things that pique my interest.