According to Dr. Dan Baker, the rapidly growing field of positive psychology is “the study of the good life.” While clinical psychology focuses on what’s wrong with people, positive psychology focuses on what’s right with them. It builds on an individual’s strengths to create an even more satisfying and meaningful life.
What may be most intriguing about the field is that it encompasses simple, accessible approaches that anyone can use to create greater happiness. The starting point is the realization that you can change the way you look at the world.
Our brains are hard-wired for fear, which makes sense because being fearful helped our ancestors survive. But perceiving the world through a veil of fear is not a healthy way for us to go through life today. We can adopt a more positive approach to life by managing our “self-talk” – the repetitive, often negative thoughts that flow constantly through our consciousness.
Baker says, “A good rule to follow in self-talk is to talk to yourself the way you want others to talk to you.” For example, do you want your best friend to say, “you’re gonna screw up” or “you’re too fat”? If not, don’t talk that way to yourself.
Unhappy people “pervert the power of self-talk by painting unrealistically ugly verbal pictures of their world.” They say things like, “I’ll never get a job,” or “everything happens to me.” You can listen for those negative refrains in your own mind, and replace them with more realistic, positive statements.
Here are more suggestions from Dr. Baker:
- Decrease fear with an “appreciation audit.” If you’re feeling worried, devote three to five minutes thinking about things that you deeply appreciate. It can be anything from your children to chocolate. A good technique is to list five items in a specific category, like “favorite people” or “things I’m looking forward to.” When your brain is focused on the good stuff, anxiety and worry automatically shut down.
- Avoid these traps. You can build up your power over your negative emotions, as well as over events in your world. Dr. Baker suggests that you start by finding ways to take action in a situation that troubles you. He says, however, that you are unlikely to increase your personal power if you indulge in self-talk that reflects any of these extremely common self-sabotaging beliefs:
- I’ve been victimized
- I’m entitled to more
- I’ll be rescued
- Someone else is to blame
- Choose optimism. Baker suggests that “If you find yourself walking a fine line between optimism and pessimism” try these tools “to help you move closer to the optimistic tipping point”:
- Switch thoughts. As soon as pessimistic thoughts come into your head, quickly replace them with positive ones.
- Switch gears. When problems arise, instead of bemoaning them, consider the possibilities and set out to solve the problems.
- Switch friends. Avoid people who drain your energy by judging you, belittling you, or just overloading you with their problems.
- Walk the walk. Act as if things are great, and it will become a self-fulfilling prophecy. When someone asks how you are, answer, “terrific.”