How to be more positive

Friend, please join me in your whiniest voice:

Why is it so hard to be positive?

We could use some reasons to be more positive. Reasons to complain abound at the moment (it actually doesn’t matter when I’m making this statement; it’s always true). The grim truth suggests we will never have everything we want–and therefore will always have inspiration for complaint. But we aren’t doomed to be stuck in the mire of negativity if we don’t want to be. 

Are some of us just naturally negative and naturally positive? Maybe some do have natural tendencies to see the world in a more polarized fashion. But we can nurture habits that overcome a negative nature. You can be a positive person.

These steps inspire a more positive mindset. Utilizing them delivers a stronger sense of internal contentment and will make us more pleasant people to be around. And there are some bonus practices for parents and partners at the end.

Six ways to encourage a positive mindset:

  1. “What can I gain from this?”

No matter what position of life we’re in, we’re going to have to undertake tasks we wish we didn’t have to do: taxes, confrontational conversations, work reports, election season. Instead of beginning these activities keeping an eye out for the aspects we hate, identify the benefit of it. Ask yourself some probing questions of benefit:

“What will I learn from this? How is this going to help me? What might benefit me here?”

It may take some creativity, but there will be something revealed. Take taxes: even when having to pay, you can learn what could deliver a return on next year’s tax filing. That’s a positive.

  1. Positive reminders

You’ve done stuff. It means something to be you. Set out reminders of accomplishments and meaning. Those certificates you got for completing work-related training: they mean something. Set them before yourself. Put some Post-It notes on your computer monitor with reminders of who you are: “You’re [first name] effin’ [last name]!” 

It’s cool to be you. Reclaim the coolness of yourself.

  1. Say “thanks” to someone.

Gratitude kills negativity. So on those days you feel especially critical and grumpy, give yourself a mission: thank somebody for something. It might be the right time to thank a co-worker for that instant she really went beyond expectation. Or thank your spouse for bringing a smile to your face. Or thank your kid for putting the dishes away. Or thank a stranger who supplied something meaningful to your life. (I recently wrote to the editor of a newsletter expressing that I valued the content they provided. I got a boost of positivity just by sending that little note. I got a double boost when I received a response detailing how appreciated my little note was.)

  1. Smother the negativity.

We see how gratitude chokes out negativity–mindful appreciation does, too. It’s time to look for things to be positive about. 

Often, when we feel negative or hyper-critical, we look for more examples of negativity in our lives. We actually feed the negativity. Like when we’ve gotten a late start to the day, and we’re feeling angry about that. And then as we try to grab a cup of coffee before heading out the door we realize we left our mug in the car–because wouldn’t we do that today of all days. And then our keys aren’t where we thought they’d be and now we’re going to be even later because of the necessary key search…

It’s time to interrupt the feeding of the negativity and practice a mindful moment of appreciation. Being two minutes later likely won’t matter. Go get the coffee mug, make the cup of coffee, and appreciate the aroma and the taste and the warmth… The day will be better… (Because you’re [first name] effin’ [last name]!)

  1. Smile anyways.

Our physical actions influence our mental states. The physical act of smiling actually triggers the release of rewards chemicals in the brain. So while smiling is most often a reaction to happiness, it can also be a trigger of happiness. So smile… right now. DO IT! And know that right now I’m imagining how silly you look smiling into the computer screen–and that brings a smile to my face.

Another posture of positivity might be standing up straight and proud. Pull your shoulders back, puff out your arms a bit and own your space. Don’t you feel a little rush of positivity?

  1. Be kind.

Kind people are happy people. I don’t think happiness is the after effect of kindness. But rather, vice versa: they’re happy because they’re kind. So overcome the negativity by doing a little act of service for someone else: clean out the dishwasher, buy a stranger’s drive-thru order, sit down and play with your child. Your act of kindness may not reap a huge reward in terms of thanks and appreciation by someone else–but it will make a difference to you… guaranteed.

Remember, you are in control of your emotions. You can move the needle of positivity. (You’re [first name] effin’ [last name]!)

More like this:

Added tips for parents:

  • Hug more. It’s kind. It feels good. And it releases oxytocin which settles blood pressure and reduces stress hormones.
  • Catch the good. See if you can’t get in the practice of pointing out your kids’ positive traits–and not simply just pointing out areas of critique. I try to keep score on myself–making sure the praise outnumbers the critique. It isn’t easy, actually. But I feel better for trying.
  • Say “yes” more. Saying “no” runs a person down. Being responsible parents often requires us to say “no”: “No, don’t play in the middle of the road! No, don’t poke the dog with that stick!” But there are times we say “no” we could say “yes.” And, believe it or not, it feels good to say “yes.” See what you can say “yes” to today.

And some quick tips for partners and spouses:

  • Avoid mirroring negativity. Sometimes we bond over negativity: like “well, my day was absolutely horrible too, let me tell you about it!” Don’t join the complaint bandwagon. Hear your partner or spouse as they complain, but don’t feed the negativity by adding complaints of your own
  • Share celebrations. I have a bad tendency of texting my wife the little frustrations I encounter through the day. Instead, it would be far more beneficial to text her my little celebrations through the day: “Hey! I just successfully made Dalgona coffee!” (OK, that never happened. But I’m looking forward to it.)
  • Flirt. Oh yeah, even if it’s cheesy pick-up lines: “Hey, is your name COVID? Because you take my breath away!”
  • Remember: you are responsible for your feelings. Your spouse’s or partner’s negativity does not have to be your negativity. Take charge of your positive vibes.

Published by RyanDunn

Ryan Dunn has a bunch of certificates on his desk. A few are awards for content production and marketing. Another marks his ordination as a minister. One says he’s earned a BA in English from the University of Iowa. The certificate next to that says he earned an MA in Christian Practice from Duke (with honors!). Ryan is most proud, though, of the things he’s created: The Compass Podcast, some deep content on, a series of practical spiritual advice videos, a long-lasting marriage, and fantastic little boy. (He enjoyed A LOT of help on all of those projects, especially the last two.)

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