We aren’t perfect. We want to stay upbeat and positive all the time because it feels better, we feel better, and it helps us get more done and attract awesome people into our lives. But it’s hard. Life rocks us with tough times and negative people.
So how do you stay positive when your life isn’t going well or life events bring you down?
This has been a problem I have experimented with for years. I poured over the scientific literature, studied interviews and books of celebrities that always seemed upbeat (like Will Smith, Ellen DeGeneres, Oprah Winfrey, and Michael Strahan) and asked every person who was always beaming with positivity for advice.
I hold this problem deep in my heart because I was unhappy for a long stretch of time and naturally someone who dwells on negative events.
Here is what I found works:
Build An Environment That Only Radiates Positivity
Jon Morrow had a tough life. He couldn’t move from the neck down. He lived off welfare and couldn’t earn his own money or the government would take it. Even small dreams like having his own job seemed far out of reach.
But he didn’t let that stop him. He is now a multi-millionaire entrepreneur living in Mexico.
One secret of his success was to cut out all negativity and replace every minute of his day with positive thoughts from successful people. He listened to audiobooks and podcasts for 4 to 8 hours a day. He replaced all TV with books. He stopped hanging out with other disabled and poor people who had negative mindsets.
By doing this, his reality of what’s possible changed. What he thought was impossible was actually doable.
Maybe you’ve heard this advice before and it seems obvious. But are you actually making your day as success-oriented as you can or just turning it from negative to neutral? There is a big difference between cutting out negative people from your life yet still not consuming any positive thoughts and a life where you are consuming lessons from successful people for most of your free time.
It sounds cliche because you’ve probably already heard that you want to surround yourself with as many happy, successful people and cut out negative, unsuccessful people. But it’s true. It works. There’s a reason why people do it.
Use A Mantra
After studying the science of happiness thoroughly, I still couldn’t always stay happy. I knew certain pursuits wouldn’t lead to more happiness yet I still caught myself getting sad because I wasn’t as rich and successful as I wanted to be.
Over time, I developed a mantra that has helped. I use this as a reminder about what I need to be happy and to reset expectations. The one sentence mantra goes, “All I need to be happy is air, water, food, mental health, and physical health.”
Air is free, so it’s a reminder that a lot of happiness can be obtained through free habits. Food is intentionally vague because it can be any food that keeps you full instead of necessarily the best food, something I always want. Physical and mental health are reminders to stay in shape and stay sane by developing strong friendships and all the other elements of a sane mind.
Is this technically true? No. If I were to be scientifically accurate, the sentence would be a lot longer. It would be something like “All I need to be happy is air, a nutritionally balanced meal, water, mental health maintaining habits, consistent cardiovascular exercise, a level of income at least slightly above middle-class, a few strong friendships with men…”
The sentence would get too long. The point of the mantra is not to be 100% accurate, but to give a quick proxy and remind me of what I should seek for happiness. Without this reminder, I get swept up in trivial matters and make myself depressed by chasing goals that won’t bring happiness (extreme money and material possessions).
When most people get mad if their car breaks down or they have to pay an unexpectedly large bill, I am undisturbed because I know that all those issues are trivial as long as I’m healthy and don’t have a life-threatening illness.
Use the Power of Music
There is a reason why the music industry is one of the largest in the world. There is a lot of power in music that comes from our genetics and how humans are.
In Michael Strahan’s book Wake Up Happy, he credits music for getting him in the right state when he played professional football and before he went on state during his entertainment career.
He says that the right genre will differ depending on you. Test different music until you find what songs pump you up the most. Many people thought Michael was playing hard core rap on the field, but he was actually playing R&B and soul.
I’ve found that it’s just as important to stay away from negative music. I get depressed when I listen to sad songs. I have a stronger reaction to this than most people, so it may not be as big an issue for you. Just make sure you keep it in mind.
Study People Who Never, Ever Gave Up
There are plenty of real people who have started worse off than you and have achieved something greater than you. Many have documented their stories. Studying their stories will provide a tremendous boost in your confidence because you start believing that you can get through the tough times you face.
There were definitely moments in my life where I thought it was near impossible to get out of the rut I was in. I graduated college with a degree but didn’t like the job paths of that degree. It took me a couple years to find a different pathway and during that time, part of me thought that I couldn’t ever make a lot of money doing what I loved given my lack of experience. What helped me was studying the lives of people who started later than me, didn’t have any school training or also had a different degree, and still created a life of their dreams.
Here are some people, film, and books to get started:
- Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl
- Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance
- How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big by Scott Adams
- Nothing to Lose, Everything to Gain: How I Went from Gang Member to Multimillionaire Entrepreneur by Ryan Blair
- Total Recall by Arnold Schwarzenegger
- Sylvester Stallone
- Chris Gardner
- John Paul DeJoria
- The Pursuit of Happyness (film)
- Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand
- Unbroken (film based on the same book)
There are also plenty of inspirational compilations and videos on YouTube. This film scene from a Rocky movie really helped me out. I almost cried when I first saw it.
You Don’t Have To Be Perfect
I don’t think anyone is truly 100% positive all the time unless they’re mentally screwed up. It’s normal to not be perfect but easy to believe the fantasy that the people we see on social media or in real life live 100% positive lives. .
Everyone has moments of down time. The difference is that successful, positive people don’t let those negative moments last longer than they need to or get to them in unhealthy ways. They don’t dwell endlessly on the topic. They prepare for unexpected events to get through them easier. They let themselves cry as much as they need to rather than hold it it. But then, they move on.
There are plenty of great books on the science of happiness with specific tips on reducing the amount of time you dwell on negative events. I suggest two: The How of Happiness by Sonja Lyubomirsky and Learned Optimism by Martin Seligman.Those should be more than enough, but any of Seligman’s books are great.
Reflect on the Psychology of Your Negativity
“Whenever you find yourself feeling negative, pause, and ask yourself, “what story is my negativity telling me about me?” -Dr. Robert Glover, best-selling author of No More Mr. Nice Guy
Sometimes, our negative behaviors or thoughts are a reflection of our past experiences. We could be generalizing on a whole racial group, gender, or way of dress because of a few negative experiences with people in this group. But just because a few people in this group are bad doesn’t mean everyone in this group are bad.
Develop Your Sense of Humor and Laugh More on a Daily Basis
One of the most impactful changes I made towards my positive thinking was getting around humor more on a daily basis.
I heard a story of a man who was terminally ill. He got through the depression by playing nothing but comedy videos all day long, which kept him laughing and happy. He ended up miraculously holding on recovering.
Laughter is like nature’s medicine.
So I try to listen to at least 30 minutes of Stand-Up Comedy on YouTube or Pandora once a week (I recommend Pandora’s Top Comedy station with the free Chrome Ad Blocker extension on). It started out hard for me because I was naturally in a negative, serious mood all the time. I rarely laughed even once throughout the whole 30 minutes. I didn’t see the jokes as funny. Studies have shown this tends to happen when you aren’t the most mentally healthy: you laugh less and tell less jokes.
Over time, I experimented with a lot of different comedians until I found the ones that vibed with my sense of humor and had a higher frequency of making me laugh.
I also made an effort to hang more around people who told a lot of jokes and are funny. Over time, you start to see jokes you didn’t have throughout life because these other people do and you pick up how they do it. I also made an active effort to be more open-minded and laugh at jokes that I didn’t necessarily truly find that funny. Laughing with others around you in real life helps put you in a better mood and see jokes in a new light.
Realize Bad Events Will Always Keep Coming
I heard a point in one of Brian Tracy’s audio books that stuck with me for years. He said that successful people get just as many negative events in their lives. The difference is that they simply expect and prepare for them. They aren’t negatively affected by them because they know it will come and they deal with it well.
Rather than trying to avoid any possible negative events, realize that life will always surprise you with some. Take it in stride with preparation and get through it quickly.
Gary Vaynerchuk, a famous entrepreneur, has a message he beats home whenever someone asks him about how he stays positive and focused. Gratitude. He keeps negative events in perspective by realizing how small they are in the greater scheme of things.
A negative encounter with a stranger, a rejection, losing your job, or a sales call gone bad may seem big or world-ending in the moment, but Gary suggests you remind yourself of what truly is life threatening or devastating: cancer, a close family member dying, debilitating physical disabilities, or your own death.
When you do, you realize that whatever you are stressing about is small in the grand scheme of things.
I suggest writing down all the things you’re grateful for once a week. It really helps and plenty of scientific research has shown the power of gratitude on happiness.
Stop Dwelling and Comparing and Start Living
The book The How of Happiness, one of the best science-based books on happiness out there, covers a key point towards eliminating negativity and sadness: the worst things you can do to prolong and increase sadness are dwelling on the negative and social comparison.
So when something bad happened to you an hour or a day or a week ago, stop thinking about it! It’s not easy but the act of trying is already better than where you were before. Jump into activities that get you excited and take your attention. Having fun is a great way to get your mind off of it.
And catch yourself the next time you’re spending too much time on social media or gossiping with friends about others who seem better or richer or more successful than you. If you’re detecting signs of jealousy or comparison, cut it off!
Further Recommended Books for Reading
If you want to explore this even more, I suggest these books:
- The Power of Positive Thinking by Norman Vincent Peale
- Ten Powerful Phrases for Positive People by Rich DeVos (billionaire)
- The How of Happiness
If you use these tips on a weekly basis, I guarantee that your average level of positivity will increase (especially the comedy one). It’s taken me a while to find these but you get to short cut the process.
Did I miss anything? Leave a comment letting me know what’s worked for you.
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