A new year has begun and things are feeling a bit … bleak, to say the least. We are struggling to see an end to the pandemic and our daylight hours are still at a minimum. Together, the Omicron variant of Covid-19 and the endless grey skies of winter have created the perfect gloomy cocktail. Not exactly the best start to 2022.
But, if you like to start the year as you mean to go on, there’s still time to change this mindset and find joy in the months ahead — it only takes a few tweaks to let go of the doomsday thoughts and replace them with positive views.
“Decades of research in the field of positive psychology have shown that having a positive mentality can improve our physical health, protect us from burnout, increase our chances of success at work and even add years to our lives,” Sophie Cliff, aka The Joyful Coach, tells The Independent.
After working in sales and marketing at companies like Walt Disney and Hallmark Cards for a decade, Cliff decided to retrain in the field of positive psychology three years ago. Now, as The Joyful Coach, she supports people to live a more “joyful” life.
“I’m a big believer that things can get better,” she continues. “Perhaps most importantly for our current climate, having a positive mentality has been shown to improve resilience and ‘bouncebackability’, meaning that we can better deal with stress and the curveballs that life throws at us.”
So what does it mean to be a positive person? While some of us may believe we are naturally glass half full or glass half empty people, Cliff says optimism and pessimism are not fixed personality traits.
“All of us have the capacity to become more optimistic if we want to,” she explains. “An exercise I like to use with my coaching clients is to ask them to view a given situation through both a pessimistic and an optimistic lens, and to reflect on which makes them feel better or leads to more positive outcomes. Often trying on a lens of optimism helps them to see the benefits of looking on the brightside.”
Those who think more optimistically could also be doing wonders for their mental and physical health. A paper published in the Psychological Bulletin in 2005 examined studies of over 275,000 people and found that people are less likely to smoke, have issues with substance abuse or eat an unhealthy diet if they have a happy mentality.
A separate study from King’s College London in 2016 found that positive thinking, particularly visualisation and optimistic self talk, can reduce intrusive negative thoughts and lessen feelings of anxiety.
How can we turn our pessimistic mind frame into an optimistic one?
Since the pandemic arrived in the UK almost two years ago, it’s felt as if many things have been outside our control, which is why Cliff advises that we should be focusing on what we can control, rather than what we can’t.
“The past few years have shown us that so much is uncertain which can make us feel overwhelmed or downbeat, but focusing on what we can control and really making the most of whatever life throws at us gives us back some sense of autonomy,” Cliff says.
“Ways I’ve seen clients do this include finding local adventures on their doorstep, learning to cook from new cuisines or simply making their working from home space as cosy as possible.”
Another tip Cliff gives her clients is to give themselves some credit for everything they are doing and achieving despite the circumstances. “I always encourage my clients to write a ‘done list’ at the end of the week — it sounds simple, but taking five minutes to write down everything we’ve achieved can help us to cultivate a more positive mindset and build confidence,” she says.
While the pandemic is our One Big Collective Problem, day to day it’s easy to let small things get to us too, which could impede our optimistic mindset. To combat this, Cliff suggests using something called cognitive reframing which is a technique often used in cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).
“The idea is to take a situation or experience that is troubling us and try to see it through a more positive and grateful lens,” Cliff explains. “So instead of saying ‘I have to work from home’, you can flip it to ‘I get to work from home’, which automatically makes it feel like a more inviting prospect.
“I used this one last year when a burst pipe flooded my garden — instead of wallowing in the annoyance of having to contact tradespeople and fork out for repairs, I tried to remember how desperate I was to have a garden of my own a few years previous, and how lucky I was that this was the biggest annoyance I had to deal with.”
While reframing our situation doesn’t necessarily solve or change the situation at hand, it does help us to stay positive and even build resilience, which means we can bounce back more quickly when other challenges arise.
What are some habits or tips for finding joy and staying positive?
Doomscrolling is a habit many of us have begrudgingly partaken in during the pandemic, but it’s good to be aware of the content and media we are consuming. Instead of spending hours on our phones or deciding what to watch next on Netflix, Cliff suggests listening to upbeat podcasts, reading books with happy endings and practicing gratitude.
“Perhaps the most impactful habit for building a positive outlook is to regularly practice gratitude,” she explains. “It can sound like a bit of a cliche, but research has shown that the most joyful people are those that are most grateful for what they’ve got. You could make a list each evening of the things you’re thankful for that day, or practice saying a heartfelt thank you to someone who has helped you. Even simply taking a few seconds to appreciate the moment you’re in can make a huge difference.”
If you’re feeling down and want to find your joy, Cliff’s “best” piece of advice is to focus on noticing what does — and what doesn’t — feel good as you move through your days and weeks.
“It sounds simple, but often we are so busy racing through life or trying to keep up with our peers that we don’t actually know what would make us happier, or we ignore the tugs that tell us something isn’t working. Simply noticing what feels good and doing more of it can help us to build a sense of trust with our intuition and invite more joy into our lives without having to overhaul everything,” Cliff says.
“I would also invite anyone reading to set themselves a challenge of doing one thing that brings them joy every day for a week. It can be small — a ten minute walk in the sunshine or treating themselves to a favourite chocolate bar — but flexing the joy muscle will help them to see how powerful those positive emotions can be.”
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