We know that the happiest and most resilient among us choose to practice something every day — gratitude, meditation, or journaling — that lifts us up, reduces negative thoughts, and strengthens us.
But how does anyone stay positive all the time? The answer is you don’t. When striving for a positive mentality, it's important to acknowledge that we will not be positive all the time. That’s a dangerous and delusional goal. Life is challenging, tragedies occur, and we are all going to feel terrible sometimes. That’s normal.
That said, it’s crucial to find ways to stay optimistic. Optimists are healthier and more successful because they are able to increase their resilience and manage difficult moments with clarity.
Optimism allows us to see opportunity in difficulty and learn from it. In that way, we develop our capacity to love life and teach others. That’s why, in addition to regular exercise and meditation, I recommend adopting these morning habits to inject happiness into your daily lives:
1. Practice gratitude.
Whether your practice is centered on what you're looking forward to or what you’re grateful for in that particular moment, gratitude increases happiness, self-esteem, elevates kindness, improves social connection, and reduces pessimism and social comparison.
Two minutes of mindful journaling clears the mind, increases optimism, and can help shift perspective toward the good. It can even help you heal from trauma.
3. Articulate your ideal self.
Construct sentences (a mantra) that articulate what you envision as your best self. Repeating this mantra each morning as a mindfulness practice brings forward the ideal qualities within us that day, elevates self-esteem and optimism, and increases a sense of engagement within ourselves throughout the day.
4. Focus on your signature strengths.
A daily practice of choosing a strength (e.g., creativity, compassion, vitality, appreciation of excellence, prudence, honesty) and actively leading from that strength increases engagement at work and home, bolsters competency, increases an overall sense of well-being, and improves strategic thinking and creative problem solving — all of which reduce the emotional stresses of feeling that we may not have enough to offer.
By practicing these habits daily, we train ourselves to see the good in the world, to awaken the best within ourselves, and to understand that we have the power to shape our own lives.
By reminding ourselves that each day is full of potential, and by choosing at least one happiness-boosting habit to practice each morning, our feelings will begin to shift.
As you begin your journey, remember not to try to avoid sorrow and pain. They are integral to human existence. Instead, focus on enhancing your experience and learning potential within them by cultivating joy, contentment, and excitement.
On bad days, remind yourself of your strengths, and use these morning practices to refocus your attention on what you can learn or how you can grow. And, if all else fails, repeat this Byron Katie quote to yourself: “In a perfect universe, somebody would be you."
Maria Sirois, PsyD, is an inspirational speaker and clinical psychologist at the Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health who has worked at the intersection of psychology and well-being for more than 20 years. Maria teaches internationally, often with Tal Ben-Shahar, bringing to audiences the latest tools and practices from the field of Positive Psychology to enliven work, relationships, and overall well-being. She is the author of Every Day Counts: Lessons in Love, Faith and Resilience, used as a teaching tool in wellness centers, hospices, and hospitals around the country. Her second book, A Short Course in Happiness After Loss (and Other Dark, Difficult Times) is being released in March, 2016.