When faced with life’s challenges, are you the kind of person who always looks on the bright side? Do you usually see the glass as half-full? As much as we all wish we could find the silver lining in any situation, it can feel downright impossible at times.
In a world where violence, injustice, and despair seem to be everywhere according to news reports and social media, it becomes easier to expect bad outcomes rather than good ones. It takes a tremendous amount of effort to remain positive in the midst of so much negativity. While no one is exempt from life’s difficulties, we can choose to focus on the good and remain hopeful that better days are coming. With enough intention and practice, you can train your mind to look for the positive even in the worst situations.
In this article, we’ll explore the benefits of paying attention to the positive aspects of life, the harmful effects of dwelling on the bad, and how to focus more on the good.
- The upside of being optimistic
- The downside of dwelling on the bad
- How to focus on the good
- Wrapping up
The upside of being optimistic
It’s no surprise that positive thinking has a lot of positive effects on your life. Research suggests that those who choose to focus on the good adapt better to stressful situations. Since optimists believe that good events happen more frequently than bad ones, they’re able to cope better with life’s challenges.
In addition to increasing your mental resilience, concentrating on the positive aspects of a difficult situation can boost your immune system. A study on elderly people found that those who expect good outcomes in life are less likely to pass away, especially from a cardiovascular cause.
Similarly, another study on cell-mediated immunity in law students suggests that focusing on the positive can lead to a stronger immunity. Students who paid more attention to the aspects of their lives that are going well displayed a stronger immune response to a flu vaccine than those with a more pessimistic outlook.
The downside of dwelling on the bad
It’s perfectly normal to feel overwhelmed and discouraged by sudden tragedy, trauma, or heartbreak. You’re allowed to feel devastated by the bad things that happen to you. While you shouldn’t minimize your pain and struggles, it’s not a good idea to dwell on them either.
A study on university students reveals that those who tend to see the bad in any given situation are also more likely to have anxiety and depression. In addition, pessimistic students demonstrated lower levels of grit and a fixed growth mindset.
Expecting the worst could also have detrimental effects on your physical health. Research indicates a positive association between pessimism and all-cause mortality. This means that dwelling on the bad things that happen to you could potentially decrease your lifespan.
In other words, there are many downsides to being a pessimist, which we've covered more in-depth in this article.
How to focus on the good
Shifting your perspective to find the positive in even the most unpleasant situations is easier said than done. Here are 7 tips to help you look on the bright side and train your mind to focus on the good.
1. Practice gratitude
Regularly practicing gratitude is one of the easiest ways to condition your mind to focus on the good regardless of external circumstances. When you intentionally identify things to be grateful for each day, you’re unintentionally making an inventory of all the goodness around you.
If you’re going through one of the toughest seasons of your life, trying to be grateful might sound ridiculous. But if you look hard enough, there are plenty of things to be thankful for. You might just find yourself cherishing something as seemingly insignificant as a good cup of coffee. Or recognizing acts of kindness you may not have noticed before like a stranger holding the door open for you.
If you’re hoping to integrate more gratitude into your daily routine, consider the following tips to stay more consistent with this beneficial practice:
- Set aside some time every day to write down at least 3 good things that happened to you.
- Practice gratitude at the same time each day, or following another habit such as after brushing your teeth.
- Place your gratitude journal somewhere highly visible like your bedside table or office desk.
2. See the good in others
There is no shortage of good people in this world. When you choose to believe that most people want to do good, your mind starts to gather evidence to reinforce this belief. This confirmation bias helps you to see all of the good in humanity in spite of the bad.
But I know something else, too: bad people are rare. Good people are everywhere.Jeff Bauman
Seeking the good in others broadens your perspective to understand those who may not necessarily share the same views or values. When you habitually search for good qualities in others, you tend to have more positive interactions. This allows you to form new bonds with other people more easily while enhancing the quality of your existing relationships.
By seeing the best in everyone you encounter, you remind them to see the best in themselves too. For anyone struggling with self-doubt and insecurities, having someone in their life who sees their potential could be life-changing.
3. Surround yourself with positive people
As social and empathetic beings, the people we spend the most time with tend to rub off on us. They have the power to influence our moods, our opinions, and even our outlook on life. You’ve probably noticed before how your mood shifts when you’re around a friend down on their luck or a family member who loves to complain about everything.
You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.Jim Rohn
Similarly, research suggests that happiness and other good vibes are extremely contagious. The study found that those who surround themselves with happy people are more likely to be happy themselves.
No one radiates positive energy all the time. Everyone has bad days, but spending time with people who constantly choose to dwell in negativity can be infectious and draining.
In contrast, surrounding yourself with people who try their best to focus on the good makes it much easier for you to do the same.
4. Seek out good news and wholesome stories
Bad news sells. This is why horrifying and tragic headlines tend to dominate news outlets worldwide. However, just because major news broadcasts and publications fail to report good news as much as the bad doesn’t mean good things don’t happen all the time. You might just need to look a little bit harder to find it.
There are plenty of online sources that publish wholesome stories and good news. If you want your faith in humanity restored, here are a few spaces worth exploring:
- Good News Network: A news site specifically dedicated to counteracting all the bad news on mainstream media with some positive stories. (We've been covered here in the past as well!)
- MadeMeSmile subreddit: A space where Reddit users share uplifting content and just about anything that makes them smile.
- 10 days of positive thinking TED playlist: A TED Talk playlist that aims to help you think more positive thoughts.
Consuming uplifting content is a good antidote to all the negative events happening around you or directly to you. It also serves as a wonderful reminder that goodness is more common than we think.
5. Recognize your good qualities
In addition to purposely seeking external examples of goodness, it’s important to acknowledge your own good qualities. Far too many of us have harsh inner critics who love to point out our flaws and worst mistakes.
This often creates a negative view of ourselves and a false narrative that we deserve the bad things that come our way. It’s almost impossible to have a positive outlook on life if you have a negative relationship with yourself. If you want to focus on all the good this life has to offer, then it has to start with yourself.
You have so much good to offer the world. And you deserve every bit of goodness this world has to offer in return.
If you struggle with low self-esteem, identifying your own positive traits might seem like an impossible task. Here are a few exercises to help you discover and focus on your best qualities:
- Cultivate positive self-talk. Speak to yourself in a gentle and loving manner even when you mess up.
- Commend yourself for your good deeds and acts of kindness no matter how small. You bought your co-worker a cup of coffee this morning? How nice of you! You complimented a stranger? That’s amazing!
- Try saying affirmations out loud and write them down. The more you repeat these positive declarations to yourself, the more it becomes ingrained in your mind.
6. Make downward comparisons
In an ideal world, we wouldn’t compare ourselves to anyone. Since social comparison appears to be inherently human, it’s practically impossible to eliminate this tendency completely. If you must compare, try to make downward social comparisons instead.
Downward social comparisons involve comparing yourself to those who are less fortunate than you. A study on the effects of social comparison shows that those who compare themselves downward are more likely to feel better about themselves and more optimistic about their future. This means downward comparisons could help you recognize and focus on the good in your life.
However, this doesn’t mean you should invalidate your own suffering. Just because someone is going through something objectively worse than you doesn’t make your pain and struggles any less valid.
Comparing yourself to others is often seen as something bad, but this article further explains why that doesn't always have to be the case.
7. Live in the present
One of the best ways to rid your mind of negativity is to simply be in the present moment. Our ruminations about past painful experiences and our anxieties about the future often get in the way of positive thinking. In order to focus on the good, you must try your best to concentrate on living in the present.
If you were conscious, that is to say totally present in the Now, all negativity would dissolve almost instantly. It could not survive in your presence.Eckhart Tolle
Practicing mindfulness allows you to become more aware of any negative thought patterns and shifts your mind towards good thoughts instead. It also reduces anxiety and stress that could hinder you from seeing all the good things in your life.
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We can’t control many of the painful and unfortunate events that happen to us. However, you can choose to focus on the positive aspects of your life and trust that good things are coming. By appreciating all the goodness within you and around you, intentionally seeking it in others, and living in the present moment, you can rewire your brain to see all the good this life has to offer.
What do you think? Do you find it easy to focus on the good, even when bad things happen everywhere around you? I'd love to hear your tips, thoughts and anecdotes on this topic in the comments below!