Negative language is everywhere — in social media, reality television, and everyday life. People use negative words to agitate, complain, put down, and express anger and frustration. But in my years of experience with patients, I’ve found that those who use the most negative and absolute language tend to be more irritable and at greater risk for depression. So if you want to start feeling better, stop the badmouthing and say something good. It's actually simple — but it takes practice.
Language doesn’t just reflect our emotions, it affects them too. Speaking in absolutes, complaining, trash-talking, arguing and raising our voices can have an incredible impact on how we feel, who we are, who we spend time with, and how we move forward in the world. But by consciously shifting from negative to positive language, you can talk your way to a happier and healthier self.
Here are my top seven tips for talking your way to happiness:
1. Flip the script on self-description.
Do you tend to describe yourself in absolutes, such as “I’ve always been unhappy?” Absolutes close off the possibility of change. Instead, shift to a more open-ended language. Saying “I have moments of unhappiness” keeps you open to moments of happiness, and allows for a more optimistic view of yourself.
2. Acknowledge your stressors. (But don't just vent!)
I'm sure most of us have had moments where the only thing we can do to make sense of a situation is to say, “That stinks!” While it can feel cathartic to blurt out how unhappy we are, dwelling on the negative impact of a stressor will allow it to continue to bring you down.
Instead, use neutral language to master it, such as “It’s been a bad situation, but I’ll get past it.” By not dwelling on the negative, you make room for your own healthy thoughts to find strategies to overcome them.
3. Recognize that you have a positive inner voice — not just a negative one (and listen to it).
I once suffered from a terrible bout of anxiety, and was plagued by negative thoughts. At one point, I really thought I would literally die. Anxious thoughts can literally convince us — and our bodies — that we are in danger.
But consider the alternative: what if you tapped into reassurance from within? In my case, I learned to let my inner voice take over — the one that said, "No you’re going to be fine. There’s no evidence you’re doing to die. You will get through this." By listening to that voice, I was able to persevere and get back on my feet. And I could draw on that experience later when I needed to.
4. Be mindful of your surroundings and the people around you.
Becoming aware of where you are and who you’re with can save you from a world of trouble, and the recurring anxiety and regrets that often come with it.
5. Take control of your own words because you can.
How do you describe a lost opportunity, for instance? Do you say, “I didn’t get the job, and it sucks. They were idiots not to hire me"? Or do you say, “I didn’t get the job, but maybe I wasn’t a good fit”?
Don’t let a situation get the better of you. Trash-talking a potential employer may prevent them from considering you for a different job, and complaining can change your whole demeanor. Moving away from negative description will keep you moving forward.
6. Temper your tone.
At a young age we’re taught through role models and feedback to raise our voices when we’re angry. But this can worsen conflicts, which can cause us to feel depressed or anxious. Instead, take a neutral tone. Acknowledge the specifics that made you angry, but leave the emotions out of it. That way, you can leave the dispute, and the negative emotions, behind.
7. Touch base with yourself as if you were checking up on a friend.
I give my patients homework: when they go home, they begin checking in on themselves about how they spoke to people during the week. Did they use an angry tone or raise their voice? Did it work? Did they complain about something? Did that change it? The more aware we are of this negativity, the sooner we can move past it, leaving room for growth and change.
Starting with these tips, word by word, sentence by sentence, conversation by conversation, you can open yourself up to greater well-being and success.