I live in a leaky apartment with a moody terrier and a gabby roommate who, almost daily, sets fire to the kitchen stove when she tries to cook. I wake up at 4 a.m. each morning because that’s when my clompy upstairs neighbors decide to start their day. I’m 26, and I often feel like traveling to another planet is more feasible than seeing my dreams come true. Not to mention how international current events are rife with pessimism, national tensions are high — the list could go on.
And so, I often catch myself either having a negative outlook or absorbing the negativity around me. From the looks of a lot of my coworkers, friends, relatives, and maniac drivers on the highway, they are too.
Thankfully, though, there’s hope. As the old adage goes, we can’t control our circumstances, but we can determine how we respond. Here are a few ways to stay positive despite everything that’s going on around — and in — us.
It’s important to be in tune with our thoughts, words, and actions. Simply being an impartial observer of what we do and say can help us catch our negative tendencies. Take, for example, hanging out with a close friend. Repeatedly, I caught myself venting to her from the moment I walked into the door. While I’m thankful to have a friend willing to listen, that’s not totally fair to her. Once I realized the trend, I felt embarrassed, and on following meetups, was more careful to ask about her life instead of jumping to my roommate horror stories.
Alter your focus, for example by helping those who may be suffering. It’s not difficult to find opportunities to match your passions and skills, whether it’s spending a couple hours a month at the local food bank, retirement home, homeless shelter, or pet adoption center. Any genuine act of selflessness is enough to make anyone feel more optimistic, and by viewing life from the perspectives of others, our empathy and awareness increase.
Acknowledging the good things in life takes a lot of practice and humility. To turn appreciation into a positive habit, consider starting a gratitude list, either on paper or on your phone, and adding to it every day. Genuine gratitude to God for family, health, or the morning sunlight that streams through the blinds while we enjoy a cup of coffee will remind us that there is more than we ever imagined to be thankful for — and it’ll start to outweigh all the negative tumbling around us.
Tapping into our creativity can haul us out of negative mindsets. Something as simple as finding a new baking recipe or trying out photography can totally transform a day. Homemade pie or a beautiful landscape photo may not change the state of the world, of course, but the artistic process of learning, working with our hands, and pushing ourselves out of our typical behaviors has the potential to make us more balanced, peaceful individuals.
Taking a social media break could be a helpful detox from negativity. I mean, do I really need to see my grandmother and uncle promising to disown one another over an argument about Obamacare? Then, there’s the possibly more difficult task of being selective about entertainment. I used to think my Mom was crazy when she’d say, “Life can be difficult enough – why would I want to see so much negativity on TV?” But it’s a concept I can relate more to now. What you expose yourself to will ultimately have some sort of impact on you, even if it’s just one more “ugh” added to your day. Thanks, “Game of Thrones.”
Consider trying these practices for a day, a week, or longer, and I’m certain you’ll start to see the world as a brighter place — and feel a little lighter inside, too.
Originally published on January 13, 2017.