A Man Is as He Thinks, a literary essay from 1903 by James Allen, reminds us that what we think about affects our personality. The title is based on a Bible verse from Proverbs 23:7, “As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he.” Whether you believe the Bible or not, it is a concept that is also endorsed by many other religions, including Buddhism and New Age philosophy.
Modern psychology calls this positive thinking “affirmations” and recommends it for lifting the spirits of those who suffer from depression. It’s drug-free treatment that anyone can do. It takes no special training, just a willingness to find the bright side of things. For example, “How nice to find a parking place near the front door of the store.”
There is a relatively new branch of psychology, Positive Psychology, which specializes in the things that make people happy. The research confirms the wisdom often shared: being optimistic makes you a nicer, happier person. Having an attitude of gratitude is also helpful, whether you are thanking your spouse for a chore well done or thanking your higher power for a beautiful spring day.
You can start with a thirty-day challenge of being thankful by choosing to look on the bright side as much as possible every day for a month. Starting with at least three times a day, morning, noon and night, find something positive to say or something to be thankful for. Doing this when you eat makes it easier to remember to do. “How nice to have my favorite breakfast.” “What beautiful weather we are having.” “I’ve accomplished a lot today.”
You can make this even stronger by sharing your optimistic observations with someone else. Their day will improve because you told them a reason to be happy or grateful. Be creative by making a mental list of your blessings when you have to wait in line or if you are stuck in traffic. It’s much nicer than fuming about having to wait. You will find that these periods that tried your patience before will be more tolerable. You will still get to your destination or pay for your groceries and get out of the store at the same time. But you will be in a good mood, not a bad one.
Try making even potentially bad occurrences into positive ones. You spill spaghetti sauce on your shirt or blouse. Instead of being upset, be happy that you have lots of other shirts or blouses to choose from. You have to wait longer than usual at the doctor’s office; enjoy talking to other patients who are waiting or reading a good book or working a crossword puzzle. You really can turn that frown upside down. Look on the bright side – it’s good for you. And it will make you a nicer, more contented person.
A good way to stay positive is to have positive reinforcements. Talk with a friend about how you can better encourage each other to look on the brighter side. If you have a friend that knows how to turn a bad situation into a good one, chances are they can help you find a reason to be positive about your circumstance as well.