Over the past few years, I have grown a lot as an individual and as a creature of this universe. Climbing out of dark thoughts and troubles in my life, I recognized that my spirit no longer wanted to be tied down to negativity. I began to fill my soul with positive thoughts, new perspectives, and a renewed love for the world. I loved learning, and I craved the most meaning that my life could have.
On this journey, I have discovered a lot of things that have allowed me to find wisdom, love, and gratitude amidst the negative. I decided to condense these lessons into six main points, six changes that have completely transformed my view of myself and the world around me.
Many of these things are heavily rooted in positive psychology, my area of interest. (I suggest looking into works by Martin Seligman, Barbara Frederickson, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, and other positive psychologists to learn more about the science of happiness). Although many of these things have been written about in scientific books and articles, I believe that the universe gives us these lessons on our own. I hope that some of these things resonate with you today and that you can discover your own life lessons. But in the meantime, here are six transformational “adjustments” that you can guide you on your journey to a happy, flourishing life.
1. Say thank you rather than “I’m sorry”.
Of course, there will be inevitable moments in your life when you will owe a sincere apology to someone. Please do not use this as your excuse to avoid apologies when they are necessary. The “I’m sorry” that I speak of is the “sorry” that we throw around for every little thing. You know what I mean. “Sorry for being late.” “Sorry you have to put up with my emotions.” “Sorry. There’s a small change in our plans.” Little things like this can lead us to put unnecessary blame on ourselves, blame that really has no place in little situations like that.
Rather than putting blame on yourself, try putting appreciation on the other person. Thank the person for waiting patiently for you to arrive. Try saying “I really appreciate that you care about my feelings. It means a lot when you listen” or “Thank you for your flexibility with plans. I love that you’re so adaptable.”
Little things like this make a huge difference. Gratitude is beneficial to both the giver and the recipient. A situation that could be filled with unnecessary apologies can now become a source of positivity and happiness for people. You really can’t go wrong with a “thank you.”
When you continuously express gratitude, you begin to understand and recognize individual strengths in people. You begin to see people in a deeper, more beautiful way. This ultimately creates an upward spiral of positive emotions, gratitude, and love for other people. And who wouldn’t want that?
2. Say “I feel” rather than “you did”.
This is an important tool to use within relationships, especially in conflict resolution and active listening. When in an argument, it’s really easy for us to get so caught up in proving our point (or disproving our partner’s point) that we forget to truly listen. The focus shifts from adequately communicating each other’s emotions to degrading and hurting each other. Overtime, this can become devastating to any relationship.
It’s important to display love to another person and to actively communicate your own feelings and thoughts. The best way to do this is to talk in terms of “I feel” or “I think”, rather than simply accusing the other person. When you’re upset with your friend for constantly cancelling plans with you to hang out with their boyfriend, don’t tell them that they’re a horrible friend. Don’t harshly attack her actions. Rather, let her know how it feels. “I feel really hurt when you cancel our plans.” “I really love hanging out with you. Every time you cancel our plans, I can’t help but think that you are valuing your relationship with your boyfriend over our friendship. I feel upset by it.” The actions themselves are not the reason you are experiencing conflict. One side (or both) feel hurt in some way or another, and they just want to be understood by the other side. Work to communicate feelings, and your conflicts will be much easier to resolve.
3. Address problems rather than shy away from them.
This relates to the previous point, but really. This is extremely important as well. We are living in a generation where we are quick to find problems, but the last thing we choose to do is address them directly. We turn to mediums like social media to indirectly rant about a person or a problem, rather than directly confronting the person. We’ll talk about these things with anyone other than the person it actually relates to. And most commonly of all, we simply keep the issues to ourselves. This can become toxic to our happiness and our health.
Shying away from a problem can lead to an obsession about the issue. We develop intensifying thoughts about how irritating someone’s actions are, for example. We hate the blunt comments that a friend always makes, the seemingly harmless words about you that are actually quite offensive. We expect the person to just naturally understand that we’re upset by the comments, to understand that they should stop, but yet, we never tell them. We get angry at them for being unaware of something that they as humans, could never magically know on their own. Shying away from problems can create a lot of unnecessary tension and bitter feelings towards a person or situation, and many of these things could be solved simply by calling them out when we see them.
I’ve found a lot of peace and satisfaction in being transparent and honest, rather than being passive. I feel like the world can better understand me, and I can better understand the world. It’s a beautiful relationship.
4. Focus on your strengths not your weaknesses.
I don’t think I could ever talk about strengths enough. They are such a transformational, fulfilling part of life. In this world, however, strengths barely get any attention. Society is obsessed with flaws and weaknesses. Even looking within the field of psychology, people are focus heavily on “fixing mental disorders” and studying what’s wrong, rather than looking at what’s right.
It’s difficult to focus only on fixing our weaknesses. First of all, there’s only so much we can improve on. Yes, there are some areas of growth, but we can’t be perfect with everything. Some things won’t come as naturally for us, and that’s okay. It’s a simple fact of life.
Secondly, if we only focus on repairing weaknesses, we will never feel fulfilled. Think of a scale from 1-10, anything below 5 meaning struggling and anything above 5 meaning flourishing. 5 is a neutral point. If we simply repair what’s wrong, we can only reach 5 at best. Who simply wants to stop there? Who sits down and says “My biggest hope for my child is that they will feel ‘okay’ in life? Don’t we all crave more than that in life? Don’t we all strive for happiness?
Strengths are the bridge in that gap. They are the resources we need to feel happy and fulfilled in life. It is important that we recognize our signature strengths (I recommend taking the VIA Inventory of Signature Strengths if you haven’t already), and it is important to continuously practice these strengths in your life.
When we exercise our strengths, we place ourselves in a state of “flow,” or complete absorption. Flow creates satisfaction in our life and is one of the most effective routes to a happy life. These positive emotions are extremely powerful in fighting the negatives. Enhanced strengths will work out any problems that arise due to weaknesses. There’s really no con to a strengths-based approach to life!
5. Replace your pessimistic thoughts with optimistic thoughts.
This one can be extremely challenging, especially for those of you who are naturally pessimistic. However, it is possible. You can learn optimism, and you can let it change your perspective on situations.
The first step is to understand whether your thoughts are optimistic or pessimistic. There’s a lot more to optimism than a glass that is full. Optimistic people give themselves credit for good things. They don’t try to explain away good things when they happen. A typical optimistic response would be similar to, “I got this promotion because I have been very dedicated to this company, and my boss wants to recognize that in a new way.” For the negative things, optimists have a specific, external explanation. “I didn’t do well on this exam. I was feeling sick that morning, and the questions were more difficult than I had prepared for.”
Pessimists have an opposite perspective on the good and bad events. They explain good events as a temporary thing, often caused by “luck” or some other factor beyond their control. “I got lucky. My boss probably chose to promote me because I just happened to deliver last week’s presentation successfully.” Negative things are seen as constant, often attributed to the person. “I am not a good test-taker. I always do poorly on exams.”
Recognizing the differences between optimistic and pessimistic thoughts is the first step in thinking more optimistically. You can intentionally try to come up with optimistic explanations for situations, good and bad, and you can combat the pessimistic thoughts by changing them. The benefits of optimism are pretty self-explanatory. Optimism allows you to recognize the control you have over situations, and it allows you to better appreciate yourself and the things that happen to you. When bad things happen, you will be more resilient. You won’t give up, but rather, you’ll try again.
6. Compliment rather than judge.
People can be cruel sometimes. This world throws around so many negative thoughts and judgments about people, failing to appreciate individual differences. Growing up in a small high school, drama and judgments seem to be what fuel the community. I couldn’t help but give into this judgmental mindset as well.
Over time, I realized that these things were beginning to hinder my interactions with people around me. Being critical of other people was really hurtful, not just to the person, but to me. Thought by thought, I was ruining the beauty of this world. No one was benefiting from these judgments.
One of the most helpful tools in combating judgement is its antithesis, giving compliments! Now, I intentionally try to recognize any negative, hurtful thoughts when they enter my mind. I stop them in their tracks, and I replace the negative thought with two positive thoughts. That girl with the “weird” outfit choice? She is unique. She is brave to express herself in a way that society may not favor. She also has a really pretty smile. Reminding yourself of these positive attributes helps you to perceive the world in a better way.
Of course, you can go a step beyond and verbally express any admirable thoughts you have about someone. Someone has a pretty smile? Tell them. A positive action will stick in your mind far longer than any negative thought. Allow the positives to outweigh the negative. I guarantee that by giving more compliments, you’ll begin to perceive the world in new ways. You’ll find beauty and love in every person, and that is far more rewarding than any piece of gossip that you may have.
Thank you for reading. I hope some of these things resonate you. Perhaps you already use these things in your life, and that is great! I would love to hear about your own search for happiness and the mantras that guide you along the way.