We've all encountered a "Negative Nelly" in our lives – someone who finds the negative in any situation and focuses on that, ignoring the positives. As a culture, we're more prone to focus on negativity than positivity. If someone insults us, we're far more likely to remember that slight than the three compliments received the same day.
However, this way of thinking, which may masquerade as "modesty" or "realism," is actually damaging our health. Always looking at the dark side of situations actually hinders our ability to see any silver lining, and also prevents us from taking lessons away from hardships.
The word "positive" etymologically stems from the Latin word for "to set up" or "to build." The difference between a negative and a positive person is that one focuses on what was taken away, what could or did happen to ruin or destroy something, while the positive focuses on moving forward, growth and building a happier future. This focus on destruction versus construction is a good way to summarize the negative-positive dichotomy.
Consider this in the context of health: Are you happy because you're free of disease? Or are you happy because you're healthy?
These two perceptions show the difference between looking at something through a negative viewpoint versus a positive one. Being free of disease does not mean you're healthy. Being without negativity, therefore, does not automatically equal positivity. Positivity is a mindset we have to work toward, just as we have to cultivate health. But the payoff will make it more than worth our while.
Dr. James Pawelski came up with a formula for positive psychology:
H = S C V
In this formula, H = enduring happiness (one that will last over a 6-9 month period, for example, not fleeting); S = set range (everyone has a baseline of happiness, without working at it. Some are naturally ebullient, others are naturally more prone to sadness); C = your circumstances and environment; V = volition (your choices to engage in activities that you know will bring you more happiness).
As you can see, we have control over a number of these elements. Certainly, V is completely within our control. To a certain extent, C is also within our control – if we are truly unhappy in an environment we can work to move from that environment, even if it takes time. Dr. Pawelski has a few exercises that assist people in finding more positivity in their life. Here are two you can do today: