How to Be a More Positive Person
I come from a family of borne curmudgeons. When the wind kicked up, my dad would proclaim it had been brought in to ruin his carefully coifed side part. My mom often tempers good news with something like, “Well, it’s better than a kick in the head.”
How’s that for positive?
As you might imagine, I am, by my very nature, prone to pessimism. The old glass isn’t just half empty, it’s probably too cold, or not cold enough...or maybe I never asked for water in the first place, and it just figures that I ended up getting served it in a joint like this. So, anyway...I always sort of imagined that being a positive person was for people who wear flowers in their hair and eat organic food and think the world is a beautiful, nurturing place just bursting with possibility. Meanwhile, I can’t help getting stuck on depressing stuff like politics and tsunamis and the birds that poop on my car the minute I’ve washed it. (See also: Big List of Things to Be Happy About)
Then I started going to yoga a lot, mostly because I was feeling very uptight about the fact that I couldn’t bend more than a couple of degrees in any direction. Yoga people are tremendously positive (suspiciously so). They’re always smiling, and gushing and talking about how good it feels to “just breathe.” But while I was trying to get my breaths to conform to something along the lines of “ocean sounds,” I heard something else — a constant barrage of internal bellyaching running the gamut from cursing the downward dog to worrying about the weather to wondering whether my yoga pants were feeling tighter today than they were yesterday.
I didn’t like it. It was annoying. Worst of all, I didn’t like the fact that I didn’t seem to have much control over the thoughts. But after many months of working my body into ever-tighter contortions, it finally occurred to me — it was my brain, and it could bloody well do what I told it to. Nowadays I’d say I’m more of a recovering killjoy. Here are some things I learned along the way.
Fake It ‘Til You Make It
I once watched a dog trainer on TV lift a timid dog’s tail from between its legs as it walked down a crowded street. Minutes later, that scuttling, quivering little dog was walking tall, head — and tail — held high. By assuming a positive posture, his mind got the hang of it, too.
I hate to say it, but our inner workings (or at least mine) aren’t that much more complex. If I’m stuck in traffic and just feeling furious about the fact that the guy in front of me has been driving with his signal light on for about 10 minutes, there are two options: melt down, or assume the teeniest, tiniest smile. Just the very corners of your mouth will do. No one even has to know you’re doing it. I know it sounds ridiculous, but it works like a charm.
Understand That What You Nurture Is What Grows
There’s an old Cherokee legend about an internal struggle that is characterized as two wolves. One represents negative thoughts such as anger, self-pity, resentment, and greed; the other represents positive qualities, such as hope, serenity, empathy, and faith. According to the legend, you get to decide which wolf wins — it’s the one you feed. Let’s just say I put one very over-fed wolf on a strict diet.
Realize That Anything’s Possible
Think way back to what you thought your life would be like when you were, say, 10 years old. Chances are it’s nothing like that image, right? Now before you start slipping into a depression about lost dreams and missed opportunities, think of it this way — life is full of curveballs. That doesn’t mean every unexpected twist will put you one step closer to your dream life, but simple logic dictates that some of life’s surprises will be good.
You can think of life in two ways: something that happens to you or something that you have the power to shape. OK, so things do happen regardless, but thinking they are happening to you is a one-way street to being a total wet blanket. Instead, recognize that a lot of what happens is out of your control; what you can control is how you react.
Everyone has some things and not others. So we all tend to overlook what we have and wish we had the awesome life that other guy has. The irony is, the other guy is probably thinking the same thing about you. Rather than sniffing around for that greener grass, just relax and enjoy life on your own lawn. It’s a lot easier that way.
Don’t Go Off the Deep End
Here’s where (I think) things get a little complicated; veer too far toward optimism, and you land smack dab in the middle of totally unrealistic. And frankly, that’s not a good place to be. Because while cultivating some good vibes will probably help you live a better, happier life, too much contentment can breed complacency. A healthy desire to make things better is what drives us to do bigger and better things. I’m not wearing flowers in my hair yet, but I’d say there’s nothing negative about that.