Sign up for The WellMind Method and get exclusive access to Dr. McGee’s Love Lessons, webinars, and a supportive healing community.
A long and happy life of stable recovery does not come from good looks, money, or status. Happiness and longevity come from living a positive life. Positive people live longer, suffer less medical illness, enjoy life more, have lower rates of depression and stress, feel better, and function better. Part of achieving the rewards of recovery includes practicing positivity, particularly to ward off negativity, which can easily trigger relapse.
Positivity is an attitude that affects how we experience ourselves, others, and our situation. It also affects how we behave. When we are positive, the glass is half-full rather than half-empty. Positive people are optimistic and hopeful, as opposed to negative and hopeless. Rather than seeing a world full of problems, positive people perceive a world of opportunities for making things better, along with a general appreciation of what is good. Positive people focus on their blessings, on what is good in their life, rather than just what they don’t have and what is wrong. They focus on obtaining what they want instead of ruminating on what they don’t have. Positive people go out and make things better, while negative people merely complain. Positive people attract positive people and participate in positive activities. Since they put out a positive attitude into the world, and do positive things, positivity comes back to them ten-fold.
How do we cultivate positivity? By practicing positivity. We practice being positive both with ourselves as well as with others.
Positivity towards ourselves means cultivating a positive appreciation of our experience of life and of ourselves. We have already discussed that one of the two main purposes of life is to savor life. Practicing positivity means practicing mindful appreciation of this present moment, moment by moment, appreciating the simple gift of conscious experience. Appreciating the moment also means practicing gratitude for what is good in our lives. This might include gratitude for those who love and support us, for enough food to keep us alive, for shelter, for the many comforts and conveniences of modern life, for human civilization and knowledge, for freedom, for the arts, and for the beauty of nature. Positive people smile, laugh, and enjoy simply living. They live each moment to the fullest. One way of getting the most out of each day is to regularly remind ourselves that we will soon be dead. This realization makes this fleeting life all that more precious and worthy of our giving it our all. Positive people don’t worry about the future. They know that if they take care of this moment, the next moment will take care of itself. They know that, while we can’t redo a new beginning, we can make the best of today and thereby create a new ending. This is positive recovery.
Positivity towards ourselves involves having a positive attitude about and outlook on ourselves. A positive person affirms herself or himself. They are comfortable saying, “I may not be perfect, but I’m still great.” They have to courage to simply be who they are, because they feel positively about themselves. Their positivity allows them to drop their pretenses and be authentic with others. They appreciate their talents and achievements, sometimes made even more impressive by the obstacles they have faced. They see failures as necessary steps to success and do not give up.
Positive people mindfully note negative self-talk and substitute negative thoughts with positive ones. When they find themselves thinking, ‘I can’t,” the positive person substitutes this thought with, “I can if I practice and get help if I need it.” Rather than saying, “I’ll never succeed,” the positive person says, “I’ll keep trying until I succeed.” Rather than saying, “no one likes me,” the positive person says, “I’ll work on being more likable.” Rather than saying, ‘I’m no good,” the positive person says, “I’m good enough.” Rather than saying, “I’m a negative person,” practicing positive means substituting this thought with, “I can lean to become more positive with practice.” Positive people practice thinking supportive and kind thoughts about themselves. While they recognize their weaknesses and faults, they focus on leveraging their strengths and talents to improve their lives. While they may encounter defeats, they refuse to let themselves be defeated.
Positive self-talk comes more naturally with conscious practice. We need to make it a life habit to notice and gently let go of negative self-talk, substituting negative thoughts with positive, self-appreciating and self-affirming thoughts. If we grew up neglected or abused, we may have a lifetime of hearing negative appraisals of us or feeling that we are not worthy or valuable, making positive self-talk something that does not come naturally. This is why it takes conscious, repeated practice over time.
Positive people are inspired to work on improving themselves and their lives. They are active, not passive. They don’t hold back, giving it 100%, unafraid to do new things and take the necessary reasonable risks involved in creating new things and doing new things. While downtime and relaxation are important, positive people keep it in balance, cutting down on passive activities such as TV and internet gaming in exchange for getting out and leading an active life.
To stay positive, it is important to be mindful of filtering out negativity, which is everywhere, with almost all media reporting on negative events to the neglect of stories on human love, achievement, courage, triumph, and heroism. While it is good to be socially aware, we need to take care in not letting ourselves be constantly inundated with negativity. Instead, practicing positivity involves filtering in and appreciating positive events over negative events. This is actually more realistic, because, while evil and tragedy make the news, the truth is that there is far more goodness, grace, and love in the world.
Part of filtering out negativity includes filtering out negative people—the ones who judge us, put us down, give us negative messages about ourselves, or abuse us in other ways in their attempts to control us or make themselves feel better at our expense. Practicing positivity includes setting up boundaries to protect negative people from causing us harm. When engaging with negative people we always have the choice to not participate, to stay positive, and to walk away.
Because positive people feel positive about themselves, they take care of themselves. Because they are committed to positive action, they end negative habits, such as addictions, associating with negative people, overeating, isolation, lack of exercise, inadequate sleep, and inactivity. They lead active, balanced, meaningful lives while taking care to nurture their own well-being. As part of a practice of positivity, it helps to make a list of all the positive habits of a positive life, such as recovery, a balance of work, love, and play, exercise, time each day for silence and stillness, and good nutrition. It is a good habit to socialize with positive people regularly—do positive things with positive people. It is good to have a meaningful and challenging project, to be creative, to learn, and to be in the habit of giving. Once we have our list of positive life habits, we then slowly build each one of these positive habits into our life routine, one-by-one.
Practicing positivity also includes positivity towards others. Once we are securely positive about ourselves, we can turn this attitude and practice outwards towards others. Positive filtering with others involves focusing on the good qualities and positive actions of others. Positive people give specific praise feely to others to show their appreciation for others. A positive overall appreciation makes it easier to accept the negative traits and behaviors of others—a balanced perspective makes the negative more bearable. In fact, the best way to promote positive change in others is to catch them in the act of doing something positive and then to reinforce that by pointing it out. We also help others by refusing to participate in negativity with them, including complaining and gossiping. Instead, we can turn the conversation to a discussion of what can be done to make things better, or an appreciation of the good things people have done. By helping others to put things in a more balanced perspective, we invite optimism and help others to also see the glass as half full rather than half empty.
Being positive with others means being kind, supportive, and giving. We affirm others, especially in the face of their failures, mistakes, and difficulties. We avoid making negative assumptions of others or judging their actions prior to learning all the facts. Positivity with others requires dropping negative emotions, such as resentments, anger, hatred, and negative judgments of people. Positive people take the risk of trusting trustworthy people, connect with them, enjoy them, and care for them. Since love begets love, with time, the positive person finds themselves immersed in a world of positive, loving people.
Practicing positivity is a key recovery skill. Life truly is what we make of it. When we realize this, we can choose to focus on the positive and promote the positive in all aspects of our lives. Positivity protects us from relapse.