Jason Ryterband - Certified Meditation and MIndfulness teacher
You may have noticed—for modern people, positivity is not a given. Being positive might feel good, but our survival as a species has depended far less on how good we feel, and far more on how vigilant we are. Over millennia, we’ve learned to anticipate threats, stay close to the herd, compete and strive. Even as basic needs like food, water and shelter have become more readily available to more of the world, our habits of vigilance, anxiety, and worry have remained.
So in short, if you’re a worrier, you’re not alone. Furthermore, as sure as your mind is good at worrying, it can also be good at thinking positively. It just takes practice.
Positive states of mind may feel difficult or insincere at first, but in the long term, they become a deep support in challenging times. These states of mind promote clear and rational thinking (even under stress), they use less energy, and they are “pro-social”—they support us in maintaining healthy relationships. They also have substantial physical health benefits.
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Here are four positivity remedies you can explore on your own:
1. Focus On What You’re Doing
Harvard University researchers found that human beings spend just about half our time thinking about something other than what we’re doing. More importantly, time spent wandering off was consistently shown to be less satisfying than time spent attending to what was happening in the moment. In other words, our happiness is intimately connected to our ability to be present. So, in any given moment, how much focus can you pour into what you’re doing? Even simple tasks like folding laundry, washing dishes, or walking from place to place can be opportunities to soak into the sensations, sights and sounds of the experience, rather than just letting the mind wander.
Think of a person in your life that naturally causes a kind, friendly state of mind to arise. Maybe a child, a niece or nephew, a mentor or friend. As you visualize this person, notice what this kind perspective is like. What feelings are present in your body? What sorts of thoughts show up? Pleasant thoughts and feelings don’t always arise and that’s ok, but if they do, this person is a resource. Thinking of them can help you jump-start a kind state of mind any time.
In addition to thinking of people, we can also use situations to remind us of the good in our lives. For a few moments, let your mind wander over situations in your life that evoke a sense of gratitude or appreciation. See the images of those situations in your mind. Feel any pleasant feelings that arise. Just as our minds are good at mulling over difficulties, they can become good at reflecting on good fortune, and this will color how we see ourselves and our lives.
4. Allow The Negative
Sure, positive emotions feel great. But they are just one side of the coin. It’s not possible to eliminate the negative, but we can change our relationship to it—letting difficult feelings be and remembering that all things fade. So the next time you’re feeling a difficult emotion, take a deep breath, let your shoulders drop, and say to yourself, “right now it’s like this, and I know this will pass.”
The ability to simply let the storm blow over can be your greatest ally. Each time we meet discomfort with an allowing attitude, staying with it until it passes, we see once more that it can be done. In this way, we come to trust the process, and emotional resilience grows.
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You may have noticed, all of these remedies rely on the ability to direct your attention. One of the best ways to learn to direct your attention is through the practice of mindfulness meditation. In mindfulness meditation, we cultivate concentration, clarity about what is happening in the moment, and the ability to allow things to come and go with ease. Specific mindfulness techniques can also help us to cultivate positive states like kindness and gratitude (as we began to do above).