Most people have at one time or another, said, read or been told: “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade” or “The glass is either half full or half empty”. Both of these mottos are meant to be motivational, meaning that when going through tough times, it begins with how you perceive that experience. People do this in one of two ways: As difficulties or as challenges. When viewed as a difficulty, it is reflected to ourselves and to others we may share with, as being negative with little hope of a positive outcome. But when viewed as being a challenge, it is reflected as an opportunity for perseverance and determination with the expectation of a rewarding outcome in the end. There is one factor that determines whether we perceive our experiences as being difficult or as being challenging and that is our own attitude towards it.
The attitude that we possess has a profound effect on our perceptions and the overall quality of our lives. It is the primary contributor to having a positive living experience or a negative one. Albert Einstein had this to say: “Weakness of attitude becomes weakness of character.” By placing new actions towards gaining a more positive attitude, both immediate and long term benefits will be enjoyed. There is scientific research that has now shown that there really are benefits of living life with a positive attitude and that a happy life is a leading contributor to an overall healthier one. Likewise, science has shown that a negative attitude contributes to many of the health issues we see today such as immune disorders, cancer and heart issues. (USA TODAY 10/12/04 Power of a Super Attitude)
So the question becomes, “What can be done to have a positive outlook and a happier life?” I mean it sounds good and all, but saying this and doing it are two different things. Let’s face it, we live in a world that literally bombards us with negative information every single day; From the news we read, to television shows and movies we watch, even the music that we listen to. An example of what I’m talking about can be found in the headlines of two major internet news sources I looked at today: Man Faces Charges for Keeping Wife in Chains 10 years; People Loosing Homes for as Little as $400 in Back Taxes; Radio Station Reports that Jesse Jackson Jr. Attempted Suicide; Calls to Destroy Egypt’s Great Pyramids Begin; Interest Rate Scandal Stirs Scramble for Damages; After Floods – Grief, Rage and Deep Mistrust; Global Warming Makes heat Waves More Likely, etc.. We have the largest number of “Reality TV Shows” today than at any other time in history – seriously, “How many of these shows have ever left you actually feeling good?” We have movies and music about murder, suicide, violence, divorce, abuse, etc…and let’s face it, “we are drawn towards the negative”. I mean, if you had the chance to watch a show about nature and how awesome it is OR a reality show about DEA undercover missions that included ALL live footage (shootouts and everything)…which one would you be most likely to watch?
In a more personal way, our very nature as human beings is to lean towards looking at and dwelling upon our negative life experiences, rather than our positive ones. Be honest, at the end of a long and trying day, which events come to mind the quickest: The good parts of the day or the bad ones? Part of the reason for this is that no one likes to feel or be hurt. By keeping the negative experiences where we can quickly and easily recall them, our minds then try to make sense of what happened – To “right the wrongs in our own heads” if you will, with the ultimate goal being to rid ourselves of whatever caused us to feel that pain. An example might be: Have you ever gotten really mad at what someone said to you or the way they treated you during the work day and then in your car on the way home start thinking about it, playing it over in your head again? Perhaps even “verbally re-living” the moment, saying all the things you would’ve liked to have said when it all originally went down, except this time…coming out the victor? What we are actually trying to do by entertaining this negative memory is to change what has already happened, (which is impossible to do because that moment in time is already past), so rather than getting a “resolve or victory”, we will only aggravate our frustrations even more. The truth is that our mind can not dwell on both the positive and the negative simultaneously; It most naturally focuses in one direction at a time. Thomas Jefferson said this: “Nothing can stop the man with the right mental attitude from achieving his goal; Nothing on earth can help the man with the wrong attitude.”
So the question becomes, “What then can we do to guard ourselves against the many pitfalls that cause us to live in the negative – feeling weighed down by the pressures of this world we live in, often causing us to waste precious time that we could otherwise be enjoying fully?” Thankfully there are MANY things that we can do to avoid these pitfalls all together AND we can do to get out of a rough mental and emotional place. For one thing we can “choose to be happy”…yes, I said choose. While it is true that things can make us laugh, “things” don’t make us happy. Happiness is a “choice”. “How so?” you might ask. Well I can watch a funny movie and laugh so hard when I’m in the mood to laugh, but if I’m really angry and watch a funny movie…I don’t laugh much. Martha Washington said this about happiness: “The greatest part of our happiness depends on our dispositions, not our circumstances.”
Often for me, part of making that decision to be happy, (usually because I’m tired of being miserable), is to just acthappy. Some might say, “Well that’s fake because you’re not really happy”…but I would have to disagree, because again, “happiness is a choice”. I’ve found that if I make the decision to be happy and then begin to walk, talk and behave “happily”…I actually BECOME HAPPY! Another solution is to cut down on the amount I expose myself to negative outside influences. Personally I enjoy taking time to watch old comedy shows like “I Love Lucy” and “Andy Griffith”. For news related items I like to go to www.happynews.com and be reminded that there actually is a LOT of good in the world!
Other solutions to stop approaching life from a negative stand point include: (A) Choosing your friends wisely – If the people we put ourselves around are positive, it will only help to stay on task vs. being with very negative people, who will always drag you down; (B) Making a conscious decision to purposefully look for and pay attention to positive people, experiences and interactions in our daily lives, no matter how small an experience may seem to be at the time. (An example of this could be like hunting for sea glass or unique shells in the ocean ~ which is a rather tedious process most of the time. When hunting for these unique shells or sea glass, you don’t waist time being distracted by the many shells and rocks that aren’t being sought…rather you look past all of those, focusing the search for that one – often very small unique piece – and when found, it can be as exciting as finding buried treasure! But just as easily the focus can be on all the shells that aren’t unique, causing us to loose sight of our goal and ultimately have us leaving the beach empty handed and feeling let down); (C) Choose to live by using the power of gratitude on a daily basis. This can be done by starting and ending the day with a verbal or written recognition of all you are grateful for. In fact, in the midst of an especially trying day – you can take a moment and begin making a mental gratitude list right then. A good place to start is that you are alive; (D) Instead of being critical of others, look for things about them to be grateful for and perhaps even share that with them; (E) When life tosses you a challenge, don’t look at it as a difficulty…look at it instead as an opportunity to grow and make a conscious decision to be grateful for it; (F) Look at everything you DO have in your life, rather than focusing on those things you don’t have. It can quickly change your mood. I believe a wonderful quote to close with, is from someone who could so easily have focused on the negative in her life:
“When one door of happiness closes, another one opens, but often we look so long at the closed door that we don’t see the one which has been opened for us.” ~ Helen Keller
© 2012-2014 Rebecca Balko