Abraham Lincoln once said “most people are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.” One of America’s most admired men, Lincoln not only suffered the burden of his country at civil war, but he also battled depression most of his life. And yet he continually served as a source of strength for those around him.
What was his secret to remaining positive no matter what happens? Lincoln knew that choosing to remain positive, and choosing to remain hopeful, were the only way he could pull himself and his country into a better future.
Some people just seem born with a sunny disposition. They seem able to remain cheerful in the worst of circumstances. But for most of us, difficult times often feel like more than we can bear. We have to choose, even every day, to have a positive outlook. When we choose to be positive often enough, it feels more natural. It forms a habit. And over time, we can change our outlook on the world.
Easier said than done, right? Even when you make to choice to look on the bright side, things are not going to change overnight. So we have put together some ideas to help you as you go along.
Remember nothing lasts forever. As the scripture says, “this too shall pass.” Think back to something in your past that seemed insurmountable at the time, but now has no importance. Or it may have played an important role in the development of your strength and character.
Winston Churchill said, “Every adversity, every failure, every heartache carries with it the seed of an equal or greater benefit.” And to quote Scarlett O’Hara, “tomorrow is another day.”
Understanding the fleeting nature of every moment can also keep you from taking the happy moments for granted. When you truly savor the beautiful moments in your life, they will have a greater impact on how positive you feel.
Practice smiling. As silly as it may sound, the physical act of smiling relaxes muscles, and when combined with a few deep breathes can calm you and reduce your stress. Zen master and teacher Thich Nhat Hahn suggests a simple smiling meditation.
Breathing slowly, repeat several times in your mind:
“Breathing in I relax…breathing out I smile
“Present moment…beautiful moment.”
This works in traffic jams, screaming crowds, or just when your mind is full of thoughts that your world is coming apart.
Help others. Volunteering, helping a friend or family member, or just showing kindness to a stranger, all take your mind off your problems for a while. More importantly, they generate good feelings and help you realize how valuable you are to those around you.
Talk it out, or write it out…then let it go. If you have a friend who is a good listener, it can be helpful to voice your frustrations, once and a while. But don’t burden your friends with constant complaining. Before long they might have to choose to avoid your company, rather than have you drag them down as well.
Consider writing down what bothers you. Then leave it alone. Philosophers, psychologists, and even quantum physicists all tell us that whatever we pay attention to grows. The more you think about worries or frustrations, the more space you are giving your problems in your life.
Keep a gratitude journal. Scores of motivational writers recommend taking time each day to write down at least five things that you are grateful for. If you write it at night, your five things might be good things that happened to you that day. If you write first thing in the morning, you can use it as a way to start your attitude out on a positive track.
Don’t think only big wins deserve your gratitude. It could be a beautiful sunset, the taste of coffee, a hug from your kids. After only a few days, you may find yourself forming a new habit of appreciation for the kindness and beauty that is all around you.
Read inspirational writings. How to maintain a positive outlook has written about for millennia. The great spiritual scriptures, from all the different faiths, have a lot to say about how our attitudes affect our lives.
One of the best loved popular classics on the topic is still Norman Vincent Peale’s The Power of Positive Thinking, as well as his other books, including some in a daily devotional format. The tiny As a Man Thinketh, by H.Allen Smith, also falls in the classics category.
Biographies too are full of real life heroes and heroines whose “never say die” attitude saw them through adversity or defeat, and on to the pages of history.
Create your own quote log. As you read uplifting quotes from spiritual writings, or famous thinkers, write down the ones you like best. Then add inspiring thoughts you see from anywhere…like the t-shirt in the movie Warrior, which reads “Simply believe.”
You can use a notebook or a document on your computer, where you record and save good things you see or hear. Add favorite pictures if you like, and create a little treasure trove of good thoughts that are there for you whenever you need them. Why not read some great quotes on moving on or letting go.
Surround yourself with positive people. If other people contribute to your negative outlook, ease them out of your life. Life has tough moments for everyone, and spending time with people who overcame their own rough spots and remained positive, will both encourage you and help you learn to do the same.
Don’t give up! You are stronger than your circumstances, whatever they may be.
Robert Louis Stevenson suffered severe illness most of his life, but this is what he had to say about how to think positively… no matter what:
“The habit of being happy enables one to be freed, or largely freed, from the dominance of the outward conditions.”
Make positive thinking a habit, and it will free you as well.
Thich Nhat Hahn, Peace is Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life.