Self-help, self-improvement, personal development, all lumped under the Think Positive banner, come in for a lot of stick. Positivity is blasted for not being possible for those who live in the real world…
…the world where people are broke, un or underemployed, penalised, victimised, ostracised, bullied and marginalised. Where real people suffer from depression, disease, discrimination and demoralisation. How can they possibly be positive when the cards are stacked so heavily against them? The truth is, those who do try to make a positive difference in their lives, have often also similarly struggled at some point. Usually they have tried absolutely everything else and nothing has worked. Then, they happen across a different way of thinking which includes developing a positive mental attitude.
Positive thinking doesn’t come naturally to most people. It is hard work and takes practice and creativity. It is not a sticking plaster or cure all, but it makes the difference between “my life is ***” and “how do I make my life better?” Positivity is simply a platform for creative thinking to get to work; another tool in our survival toolbox.
I once heard a Buddhist man give a talk. (Buddhism is an ancient proponent for positive thinking) He had suffered all his life with severe depression. He knew the depths his mind could spiral down to. After studying positive psychology and Buddhist philosophy he started to work on his mindset. He said that he learned to throw up a big mental STOP in his head the split second he started to motor down the road to negativity. He knew he couldn’t afford the price of even one moment of unhelpful thinking. He would get up, do something physical, distract himself in any way possible just to stop the internal negative chatter. For the first time ever, he felt that he was the one in control and not his thoughts. He could never be complacent though. The toads of mental torture were ready to jump in at any moment; and he had to continuously work to keep them at bay. But practice makes perfect and he says most of the time he’s the boss.
Positivity is not some mealy-mouthed approach of the already eternally optimistic minded. Far from it. Choosing to flip thinking from despair to self-determined direction comes from necessity. It is sucked up by people who are not going to take the shit lying down and it takes a superhuman effort to consistently and patiently overturn the rocks thrown at them.
Conversely, I’ve heard people say that a lack of positivity is to blame for not overcoming bad situations, for losing the battle against depression. I don’t believe that. For some people life has it’s own agenda and no amount of positive thinking is going to change it. (That way lies psychiatry and medication). Still, we can attempt to stay on top of it while we can. Channel 4 news recently interviewed a mother dying of cancer. She said that she wanted to make the most of her last days. She was devastated to be leaving her children behind but she wanted to enjoy what little time she had left with them. In the face of tragedy she found the courage to look for whatever comfort she could find. Being positive was a last gift to herself and her family.
The supporters of the Science of Positive Psychology aren’t invested in just trying to help treat people who have mental health issues or coping with intensely traumatic life and death situations. They believe (and this is coaching territory) in helping everybody with ‘normal’ lives to build an optimistic outlook that makes the most of what they have. They believe that people have the right and the ability to be happier and more fulfilled. Positive Psychology is just as concerned with human strength as human weakness. It is just as interested in building strength as repairing damage. According to Martin Seligman co-founder of Positive Psychology, it is just as much determined to build happiness as relieve misery. It is not enough to help people be not angry, not sad, not jealous, not depressed. That just gets them from minus to zero. What is required is to get people to a PLUS state. And this is where we get into the full meaning of Positive functioning which includes pleasure, engagement and meaning.
The scientists can now measure our levels of happiness. Their definition of authentic “Happiness” is broken down into three areas:
The Pleasant life: being in possession of as many superficially positive emotions and pleasures as you can and learning the skills that amplify and stretch those eg savouring the moment with mindfulness. The main drawback of this is you get used to it quickly and it takes more to reach the same level of satisfaction. You are always chasing the next fun thing. (Therein lies the path to addiction)
The Good Life: a life of engagement in work, parenting, love, leisure. These people are very good at getting themselves into the state of flow because they do what they love and they surround themselves with positively engaged people. In a state of Flow, time stops, they are unaware of its passing. They don’t feel anything, they are in intense concentration. To obtain this know what your 5 highest strengths are, recraft your work, love, play to use these strengths as much as you possibly can.
The Meaningful Life: knowing what your strengths are and using them in the service of something bigger than you. The act of philanthropic pursuit arouses a longterm sense of positivity and well-being. The challenge in 21st century is to use technology, entertainment and design as drivers not just to increase people’s pleasure zones but to help them engage with and contribute to the world at large. People tested for all three lives came out top in happiness, satisfaction & fulfilment, when they felt they live a meaningful life.
So when life looks bleak identify your main strengths and values, apply them in a way that will fully engage you, and learn to build your positive mindset through creating a meaningful life, full of purpose. If you need help doing this, invest in a Creative Thinking Coach. Email me to find out more: Lou@createlab.co.uk
For daily, inspirational Picture Posts follow me on Twitter @createlab.co.uk Instagram create_lab and Facebook Lou Hamilton