feel more, Smile more. What if we told you that settling into sadness can actually make you happier? That doesn’t mean we should spend our downtime buried under a pile of teary tissues. But science says that to be truly happy, we have to put a little effort into thinking more positively (or less critically) about all our feelings – the good, the bad, and the messy…
Expert in positive psychology, Dr. Zelena Montminty, wants us to know that positive thinking isn’t about oozing sunshine and sparkles all the time (seriously, who has time for that). Rather, it’s about working through the tough stuff by tuning into and trusting our built-in emotional resilience.
We’ve been eating up Dr. Zelena’s new book, 21 Days to Resilience, ever since it came across our desks and have been working our way through the diary-like format full of Q+A’s and quizzes. For the self-help lover, this book is the stuff that dreams are made of. But there’s plenty to enjoy for the positive psychology skeptic here too. We asked Dr. Zelana to lay out a few key principles for those among us who are hesitant to latch on to the idea of “willed” happiness. Here’s Dr. Zelena speaking truth about sustainable confidence, security, productivity, and yes, happiness…
Stop trying so hard to be happy.
We do so much of what we think will make us blissful, but so many of us are unhappier than ever before. The code to unlocking happiness and success isn’t the quest for it after all. Groundbreaking research shows that happiness is in fact much easier to attain if we stop focusing on it so much. Although this might sound counterintuitive, happiness shouldn’t be the end goal if you really want to be happy. Research has actually exposed several negative side effects of happiness, particularly that too much of the wrong type of happiness, experienced at an improper time, pursued in the wrong way, can be damaging. The antidote: Undertake resilience instead.
You shouldn’t ALWAYS be positive.
Even though that’s what social media might make you feel like you need to do, being positive all the time is simply impossible – and unhealthy! Negativity is an important counterbalance and makes the good times that much better. People who are resilient are okay with sitting in the negative, feeling real sadness, experiencing the gamut of emotions. People who are successful and content longterm know that a huge part of our journey is accepting the bad feelings that come with adversity and challenges, not trying to escape them. They experience it, learn from it and fight back. They grow from it. It strengthens them. They let the negative empower them to bounce back and proactively turn weaknesses into strengths.
The benefits of positive thinking are backed by credible science.
Science has repeatedly shown that people who are optimistic and think positively generally are more protective of themselves, are successful, are more lively and spirited, and have better physical health, all of which further support resilience. Every single outcome in our lives improves once we begin to think positively about our present and our future, including our resilience. The reason why is simple: Our expectations prime our behavior. If we expect positive outcomes, we are more likely to make choices that support those outcomes. On the flip side, unhappiness comes as no surprise so we don’t fight against it. We don’t have a reason to if we welcome it. So it’s true that optimism and pessimism can be somewhat prophetic. They’re clues into our future and are self-fulfilling. Change your outlook and you’ll slowly start to change the lens with which you see the world, changing your behavior and outcomes as a result.
Meditation is more active than you might think.
We mistakenly think that if we’re in a meditative mode, we’re not “doing” anything, that the messier our mind is, the busier we are and feel, the more we’re getting done. The reality is that this type of behavior actually makes us more anxious and less likely to get things done efficiently. When we notice and embrace how busy we feel in that moment, we gift ourselves that moment to slow down. Being present literally frees us to have more room for action, flexibility, and ingenuity – and to ultimately be more resilient.
Challenges are critical to our success.
Think of challenges as the rain that creates the rainbow. Our most trying moments are valuable teachers. Instead of getting bogged down by the negativity, look for value. What is this crisis revealing for me? What am I learning about myself and others through this experience? Once we’re able to shift our perspective and find meaning, we are able to effectively move forward and grow. Challenges provide an opportunity to build grit and endurance. Without them, we wouldn’t have built the depth and grit needed to support success. We wouldn’t have a comparison that makes the good times that much better and helps cultivate gratitude.
Our thoughts literally shape our reality.
When we believe in something, right or wrong, it becomes our truth. Chemically. Every thought releases brain chemicals. Negative thoughts zap our brain of its power, slow it down and reduce optimal functioning, even creating symptoms of depression. On the other hand, thinking positive, hopeful, optimistic thoughts reduce our stress hormone cortisol and produces serotonin, our “happiness” hormone, which helps our brain function at its peak and sets us up for further positive outcomes. We are what we think – not just figuratively, but biologically.
Resilience isn’t just about bouncing back.
Being resilient doesn’t mean that you won’t encounter problems or have difficulties overcoming a challenge in your life. The difference is that resilient people don’t let their adversity define them. They let the negative, challenging times teach them important lessons. At its core, resilience is about being capable and strong enough to persevere in adverse or stressful conditions—and to take away positive meaning from that experience. Living with resilience is more than just “bouncing back;” it is about shifting our perceptions and changing our responses. Highly resilient people seem to not only bounce back from hard times, but also grow and become stronger as a result – they experience post-traumatic growth. They find a way for their struggle to redefine their life and fill it with new meaning. This type of growth is the cornerstone of a lifetime of flourishing.