The Bright Side of Life
14th January, 2011
The outlook can seem very grim at the beginning of a new year. The weather, money worries, health concerns: problems can build up and seem insurmountable. Much of our energy seems to go on trying to solve our problems and get ourselves into a better place.
What makes it possible for some people to keep optimistic and high spirited? It is not necessarily related to having less problems or difficulties. The study of a positive outlook (positive psychology) reveals that people need to be involved in things that interest them, to be in positive relationships, and have meaning and purpose to their lives. This means that people need to be connected to something bigger than themselves, and something to which they feel they can contribute. It also involves an ability to be grateful (the old “count your blessings” cliché). This is very different to having problem-solving skills: you can have the ability to manage difficulties, but still be miserable.
Focusing on strengths is another significant area. When people concentrate on developing their strong points, then their weak points tend to become less of an issue, or even improve. The outcome is a sense of achievement and value, instead of failure and inadequacy. If you can’t do something well, then it is going to be much more difficult to try to work on that, than to focus on developing something you are good at. In the workplace, managers that focus on identifying strengths experience far less sickness absence that those that continually tell their workforce what they are not doing well enough.
There are also some key internal factors that help maintain a positive outlook.
- an acceptance of one-self
- recognising choices
- an ability to be still
People who accept themselves are not swayed by other people’s moods or actions. They are able to interact in difficult situations, and still keep hold of and manage their own feelings. They are not defensive, but instead are able to react to criticism calmly and rationally. These people don’t use the words “He made me angry”. This is an assertive position. If someone has a critical “internal parent” it shows in the way he interprets a situation, often feeling guilty when there is no need, or unable to accept a compliment. His view of himself is almost invariably negative. A person who can “parent” himself in a way that affirms and encourages will find himself hopeful, self-accepting, and forgiving. Getting something wrong is viewed as an opportunity to learn, rather than a disincentive to attempt anything new again. Healthy self-parenting says, “I’m OK”.
I have a choice
The recognition of the ability to choose helps a person feel more in control of her life. This entails taking conscious responsibility for choices, instead of embracing the victim mentality that states: “Why do bad things always happen to me?” There is a choice to be made in every situation, but all too often we behave as if we don’t have options, and this can leave us feeling stuck and frustrated.
I can be still
How does being still help positivity? Happy-go-lucky people don’t seem to need time to be quiet. Being still is the ability to reflect through prayer or meditation. It helps put events in perspective, and brings clarity of mind and a calmer outlook. It’s not necessarily done by sitting still – people who go running or jogging say that as they run, their mind quiets down, releasing creativity and direction, putting difficulties in perspective.
The challenge here is perhaps to let the problems take care of themselves, and instead spend time developing the “happy gene”. The who, what, where, why and how questions beg to be answered:
- “Who do I want to be?”
- “What are my strengths?”
- “Where do I feel best supported and cared for?”
- “Why am I here?”
- “How do I best look after myself?”
A positive, self-affirming approach to these and other questions will definitely lead to better health, more creative ways of dealing with those money worries, and a chance to spot the rainbows in the gloom of winter.
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