How are you feeling right now? I mean right *now*. This very moment. Pause for just a few breaths and take a quick personal survey. Are you excited? Stressed? Bored? Angry? Hopeful? Is the world crumbling around you, or are you delighted to be working towards a long-term goal?
Between election stuff, weird winter weather, and the inevitable turmoil of an ever-changing economic environment, I’m about ready to swear off social media altogether — except I know there are zillions of really great stories out there that fill me with hope and ideas and motivation. I just have to find (and share) them amidst the other depressing images constantly sneaking their way into my Positivity Zone.
Take a look at your posting habits. Look back at the last ten emails you sent. Review your past week’s social media content — the stuff YOU shared, not the things people around you posted. Think about the last three conversations you had with literally anyone. Check out the top news stories on your phone… those algorithms don’t lie about your browsing habits. How are you choosing to frame your life experience, and your interactions with those around you? Are you a “Glass Half Full of Neurotoxin” or “Glass Pretty Full of The Good Stuff” person? (And yeah.. it tends to get that polarized.)
“But there’s a war, and did you hear about that shooting downtown? And how about that recall on pork?? I need my bacon!!!”
I get it. Sometimes life hands us complicated or downright awful situations. Jobs end, relationships crumble, people die. Today’s global and nonstop news cycles remind us 24/7 that there are truly awful things happening all over the place.
I doubt that those things are new. I am 100% sure our great-great grandparents’ peers on the other side of the globe ALSO experienced tragedy, we just didn’t necessarily hear about it all the time. It had to be epic to make the news reels. Now it just has to happen within the view of somebody with a smartphone and access to the web. And the tendency to click “Share this!” is overwhelming… sometimes before (or without) even bothering to actually read the content, or checking if it’s true!
Here are three easy steps to help you choose a more positive environment for yourself and those around you.
Step 1. Believe Positivity is a Choice. We’ve all been told that our personalities are genetically predisposed, and that’s partially true. Scientists don’t actually know how much of our personality is nature and how much is choice, and they almost all agree that at least SOME of it is up to us — so take the first step by just simply believing that you DO have the ability to see good in the world around you, even when the unpleasantness shows up.
Step 2. Less Negative, More Positive. Our brains are predisposed to keep us safe by looking for danger, and that is GREAT if you’re actually at risk of being eaten by a hippo or poisonous snake or mugged or whatever. That’s NOT so great if you start feeling anxiety when your phone buzzes or your entire social media feed is about the collapse of the economy and the impending apocalypse.
Try incorporating a daily practice of actively seeking out good news, or sharing uplifting ideas to your own network of connections. Try doing Random Acts of Kindness. Smile! It’s actually pretty easy to start building healthy happiness habits. This doesn’t mean ignoring the warning signs and letting your stock portfolio tank, or tuning out the storm alerts. If you’re obsessing about how terrible everything is and you focus solely on BAD THINGS… then you’ll get exactly that, and miss all the opportunities and joy that co-exist in the world.
Step 3. Practice Makes Positive. Like any habit, it takes time for positivity to become a comfortable practice. The good news is unlike a new gym routine, you can start feeling the benefits right away. And I mean right away. Need help retraining yourself to focus on the good stuff? Add a reminder to your calendar, or a post-it note to your mirror (fridge, monitor, visor, wallet…). Get a Happiness Buddy — find somebody else who’s also interested in breaking the cycle of negativity and encourage each other (and gently remind each other if/when you slip and start falling back down the murky rabbit hole of sharing sarcastic or depressing memes on Instagram or Facebook or whatever social media rules your life).
Happiness tends to be contagious. Try incorporating “I’m grateful for..” as a meeting ice breaker, or a dinner time activity with your friends or family. You might have to remind people to stay positive, but eventually it becomes a comfortable — and beneficial — way of interacting that can help balance out the less-pleasant stuff you don’t have any control over.
You don’t have to be held hostage by negativity. You control your own environment, and the more you focus on hopeful, motivational, positive messages, the more uplifting and upbeat stories those algorithms will start bringing your way, and the better your brain will get at seeking them out! (Plus your friends will start sending you fun articles! Bonus!)