Think Happy Thoughts: Three easy ways to stay positive when life happens

With school in full swing, countless students at West have already felt the stress of homework and deadlines. However, the best way to conquer this is to have a positive mindset. 

Positive thinking is not ignoring bad situations, but approaching them with a productive mindset and open attitude. In an interview with The Atlantic, Michael F. Sheier, professor of personality and health psychology at Carnegie Mellon University, says positive thinkers “are problem solvers who try to improve the situation.” 

However, our brains have a tendency to focus on negativity. Ms. Meyer, Glenbard West’s school psychologist says, “On average, people have about sixty thousand thoughts a day and eighty percent of them tend to be negative. Fifty thousand thoughts a day are negative.”

Hara Estroff Marano, writer at PsychologyToday, calls this the “negative bias.” She cited a study done by John Cacioppo, former professor at the University of Ohio, which found that the brain reacts more strongly to negative stimuli than positive stimuli. Because of this, many find it difficult to stay positive in highly stressful situations. The only way to change your thinking is to practice this often:

1.) Find the silver lining – Regardless of how hard a situation may seem, there will always be something positive to focus on. Though it sounds cliché, looking for unexpected good is a great way to curb negative thoughts. Finding the silver lining is difficult. To remedy this, ask yourself how you can grow from the situation, or see it as a chance to reevaluate. 

2.) Be grateful for everything you already have – According to Mental Health America, “noticing and appreciating” everyday triumphant moments offers a “great mood boost.” They suggest “[soaking] in the lovelier aspects” of your life. Make a goal to think of something you are grateful for when you find yourself thinking negatively. 

3.) Don’t dwell on it – ‘Rumination’, as defined by a study done by Yale psychologist Susan Nolen-Hoeksema, is the tendency to “repetitively analyze oneself and one’s problems.” According to this study, rumination has been “robustly implicated” in the onset of depression because it becomes a mental habit. Ms. Meyer suggests focusing on the things you can control. “Having control over your thoughts, and being able to say […] ‘here I am in this moment, what do I have control over?’ […] [helps] us feel less like things keep happening to us and more like we have a voice.” If you are feeling overwhelmed by a test coming up, or a project that is due, redirect your anxious energy instead of focusing on your situation. Take a short break to exercise or do something else you enjoy. 

This school year, each and every one of us should aim to approach any difficult situation with optimism.