Positivity. It’s the art and science of seeing the good, of continuing to seek mental health and wellbeing, of knowing that you’re capable of taking action toward a life worth living. There are multiple components to positivity. Perhaps oddly, one of those components is doubt. It’s common, and very okay, to wonder if positivity is effective. Does it have an actual function, or is it just fluff? And, perhaps the biggest question: does it work when you’re down, or is it only for those who are already positive, who are seemingly without any mental health challenges?
A Peek at Positivity: What is It?
Positivity is an outlook, an attitude. It is not, however, a matter of seeing the world through rose-colored glasses. While doing so can be pleasant, it’s superficial. A deep-seeded attitude of positivity is less about putting on glasses with artificial lenses and more like nurturing your mind and body from the inside so that you don’t need fake glasses to interpret your inner and outer worlds with bright clarity. Being positive about yourself, your life, and the world around you isn’t always easy. Living with mental illness presents a great many challenges. Even without a diagnosed mental illness, nearly everyone (actually, probably every single person on the planet) experiences stress, often severe, throughout their lives. Indeed, life is quite the roller coaster, full of ups and downs and twist and turns. Our thoughts, emotions, and behaviors ride with it. In times of hardship, in the downs and violent twists and turns, positivity can feel impossible. How can you hang on for dear life, wondering about your very survival, and be positive at the same time? Positivity isn’t the absence of hardship, stress, or even mental illness. It’s knowing that emotions, thoughts, and behaviors that occur during hard times are temporary attitudes, separate from your permanent outlook. Positivity doesn’t mean putting on those rose colored glasses to make difficulties disappear or harder to see. Positivity hides nothing. Positivity involves our actions, backed up by thoughts and emotions, depsite the ups and downs of life.
How to Make Positivity Work for You
The field of Positive Psychology defines itself as “the scientific study of the strengths that enable individuals and communities to thrive.” The goal of positivity isn’t the absence of problems; instead, the goal is to thrive no matter what. Because its very nature is to thrive through the good and the bad, it works for everyone. Because the nature of positivity is to nurture the mind and body from the inside rather than to wear some fake colored glasses, it works when you’re down. It’s truly functional. It’s not fluff. Positivity has many components that you can hone and use to enhance your mental health and wellbeing at any time. Some of those components include:
- Character Strengths: Researchers in positive psychology have identified 24 character strengths in six broad categories (wisdom, courage, humanity, justice, temperance, and transcendence) that each and every one of us possess in varying degrees. When we identify which ones are our strongest, we can use them to shape our thoughts and actions, thus enhancing mental health even during times of crisis. (Take a free character strength assessment here and start living those strengths now.)
- Flow: Flow refers to a state of full immersion into what you’re doing at the moment. When we find something we’re passionate about, be it work or a pastime, we can become so deeply involved that all other thoughts, cares, and concerns fall away. Flow stills racing thoughts while we’re engaged in the activity, and it involves being active in our lives rather than passive.
- Optimism: The idea of optimism often makes people skeptical. This relates to the rose-colored glasses, and it can feel artificial. When someone is experiencing major depression, for example, it can be hard to be optimistic for the present or the future. Yet honing optimism is one of the most effective ways to beat depression and other mental health challenges. Like the others, optimism is active. It involves intentionally seeking out what is right, appreciating it, and doing more of it. It involves doing something every hour that moves you toward a goal, even when it seems like the goal isn’t possible.
- Grit: Grit is a term coined by positive psychology expert and researcher Angela Duckworth. Grit involves passion and perseverance. Grit involves flow and optimism. Grit is an attitude and an action. Grit functions to enhance wellbeing and eradicate mental health challenges. The more persistence you have in doing something (and using your character strengths to persevere), the more optimistic you will be about your ability to thrive on life’s roller coaster.
- Gratitude: Like optimism, gratitude can feel fake. It’s hard to be thankful when you feel miserable. Gratitude isn’t about wearing those fake glasses, though. It involves reflection and deep noticing–your own strengths, the things that you do well, and the things that are going well despite problems. To fully develop gratitude takes practice. Try playing gratitude bingo for a fun way to hone a sense of thankfulness for what is good.
Positivity truly is for everyone, and it works even when you’re down. Positivity doesn’t mean you ignore problems. It means taking charge of yourself and your life in order to thrive despite problems.