How to have a more positive outlook
A positive disposition can make you better equipped to solve problems and handle life’s stresses; it helps you cement closer relationships and increases optimism.
A whole lot of things go into building this state of mind. But simply doing things that make you happy is a good, scientifically proven place to start.
We’ve got 28 ways to help you build and maintain a positive outlook. Try one a day for the month and see how each makes you feel.
1. Pay attention (be mindful), then appreciate (savour) positive things
This can be something as small as really appreciating a good cup of coffee. Professor Vella-Brodrick says this assists in overriding our default survival system, which is to give priority to negative aspects of our lives so we anticipate danger.
2. Keep goals, inspiring images, affirmations and quote cards where you can see them
“This helps remind us to adopt a positive disposition,” says Vella- Brodrick. Many WW members have found this helps them.
3. Celebrate small joys
We’re all prone to waiting for ‘big’ moments – like an exciting birthday or getting a promotion – to make us happy, explains clinical psychologist and Swinburne University lecturer, Dr Michelle Lim. Reflect on the wonderful little things that are already happening right now.
4. Use positive pick-me-ups
Feel-good flick, uplifting book, inspiring podcast, stress-busting boxing session or calm-inducing yoga class, laugh-out-loud catch-up with a friend, cute YouTube clip, motivational music, patting a furry pal… what’s your go-to when you’re feeling down or stuck?
5. Be thankful
Studies show that counting your blessings boosts wellbeing and optimism. Log your gratitude in a journal or phone app or thank someone who’s made a difference to your life through a note, a call or face to face.
6. Keep good company
“Surround yourself with people who have a positive influence,” says Dr Lim. “Emotions are infectious.”
7. Note three good things about your day
These should be things you had an active role in controlling – this can be as simple as waking up early to enjoy a healthy breakfast. Do this for seven days and see how you feel. Dr Lim says this retrains your brain to focus on all the little good things that we tend to ignore.
8. Spend time in nature
According to Vella-Brodrick, research shows that getting back to nature improves your mood and cognitive capacity. Engage with nature in an activity such as gardening, and the benefits are more pronounced.
9. Meditate more
Clinical studies show that mindfulness meditation reduces anxiety and stress. Use a CD, class or app (such as Headspace or Smiling Mind) to guide you.
10. Gradually build mental muscle
“There’s no perfect way to practise mindfulness meditation and some people find it easier than others,” says Dr Lim. She suggests starting small, with 10-20 seconds of mindfulness – such as bringing your attention to the present moment or focusing on your breathing – and building on from there.
11. Go for a mindful walk
Pay attention to the sights, sounds, smells and sensations as you walk, such as feeling the wind on your skin.
12. Try loving kindness meditation (LKM)
LKM (or Metta) involves directing well wishes and repeating mantras as you meditate – first to yourself (such as “May I be filled with ease”) then to others (“May they be filled with ease”). LKM has been shown to increase self-love, compassion and other positive emotions.
13. Counter negative self-talk
“When you catch yourself saying unhelpful things in your head, try to say several positive things in response,” says Vella-Brodrick.
14. Practise positive interactions
“It has been demonstrated that we need around two to five times more positive than negative communication with others for us to feel good and have healthy relationships,” says Vella-Brodrick.
15. See yourself through the eyes of a friend
“When we view ourselves negatively, we’re often looking through an unrealistic lens,” says Dr Lim. Be your own best friend. Think, what would a friend say?
16. Spend time with someone less fortunate
This could be through volunteering to help people in need. According to Vella-Brodrick, this technique is called ‘downward comparison’, helping you feel more grateful for the things you have and not feeling so ‘hard done by’. Watching a film or documentary about people facing adversity can also produce similar effects.
17. Help someone in need or volunteer
“Doing something that doesn’t just benefit ourselves, gives our lives more meaning and satisfaction,” says Dr Lim.
18. Write yourself a love letter
Vella-Brodrick suggests writing a caring letter to yourself and reading it regularly, especially when you’re feeling self-critical.
19. Go easy on yourself
“People often think that being hard on ourselves makes us achieve more,” says Dr Lim. “But research has shown the reverse to be true: the added pressure of expectation can create a barrier to achieving.”
20. Visualise your best possible self
What does life look like if everything goes as well as it could – in one, five and 10 years’ time? What’s happening? Who is there? How do you feel? “This type of mental imagery helps you identify what you value and inspires you to aim towards it,” says Vella-Brodrick.
21. Acknowledge acts of kindness by others
“Realising that there is good in others can increase your own sense of wellbeing,” says Vella-Brodrick.
22. Strive to be more than just ‘happy’
“Happiness is only one of the many emotions we experience,” says Dr Lim. “Most of the time, we feel neutral or okay as our default.” You’ll feel better overall by trying to generate plenty of specific positive emotions – satisfaction, relaxation, generosity, contentment and so on.
23. Identify and use your strengths
“This can help you feel more self-confident and engaged in life,” says Vella-Brodrick. “It’s also useful to work with other people’s strengths to achieve goals.”
24. Establish an enjoyable routine
“Having habits you enjoy and look forward to – such as a morning run or cooking for your family – can make a big difference to how we feel each day,” says Dr Lim.
25. Do something kind
In a recent study at Yale University School of Medicine, those who performed small acts of kindness (such as opening a door for someone) reported fewer negative emotions and lower stress levels.
26. Change your approach
“If you’re not getting the same positive pay-offs, try something different,” says Dr Lim. “Such as a group exercise class if you no longer enjoy running.”
27. Spend time with family and friends
“Having strong connections with loved ones has a positive impact on how we feel,” says Dr Lim.
28. Put things into perspective
“When you stop, look around and reflect, you realise that most of us have all we need,” says Dr Lim. “And that life is pretty good.”