Being positive

If you're happy and positive, you'll find life easier than if you're miserable. And, according to numerous research studies, you'll get fewer colds and infections and you may even live longer! This sounds great in theory, but here's how to put it into practice.

Girl smiling

There are no fake smiles here.

In recent years, experts have started looking at our happiness and positive thinking in a different way. After the Second World War the emphasis on mental health was mostly about curing mental illnesses once they had started. As Professor Martin Seligman, founder of the Positive Psychology movement, says: “Psychology has badly neglected the positive side of life.”

Nowadays, there’s much more emphasis on prevention, about developing a positive attitude, and taking charge of your own ability to be happy. When we do that, we will generally have a much healthier state of mind.

Can negative people become more positive?

Yes, they can. Of course, some individuals do genuinely seem to have been born as sunny-natured, optimistic people, but all of us can re-think our approach to life and become more positive. It’s just a question of getting our heads round it.

Is there a secret to being positive and happy?

Not really. But there are definitely things you can do to cultivate a more positive attitude. For a start you can accept that happiness is a choice. There are different ways of dealing with upsetting situations: there’s a split-second when we can opt to be miserable about it, or not. Of course, this doesn’t apply when something deeply upsetting happens, like someone close to us dies or we get dumped, although even then people can develop an ability to view things in a more positive light.

When it comes to irritations like trains being late, bosses being difficult, or college work being complicated or boring, we do have an option. We can either allow it to make us miserable and indeed to ruin our whole day – or we can shrug it off, and move on.

Seligman learnt this important secret from his five-year-old daughter. It was as a result of this that the Positive Psychology movement evolved. He often used to be grumpy, being a busy scientist with loads of responsibilities, but one day his little girl told him that she’d made a decision to stop whining.

She said: “Daddy, if I can do that, you can stop being such a grouch!” In other words, she revealed to him that he had a choice about his mood. This simple idea changed Seligman’s life and it can change yours, too. However, if you’ve got depression it’s not so easy to shake the blues, so make sure you get some advice from your doctor (GP) about getting further help.

Hints and tips on becoming more positive

1. Train yourself to notice when you’re happy and try to collect five happy moments every single day.
2. Get active – physical activity releases happy chemicals in our brains.
3. Sign up as a volunteer – research shows that helping others gives us a sense of wellbeing.
4. Keep in contact with your mates – scientists report that individuals with a good social network are more likely to be positive people.
5. Write a letter of thanks to someone who has helped you or had a great influence on you. This will increase your positive and contented feelings.
6. Eat healthily, drink plenty of water and get sufficient sleep. It’s hard to feel positive if you aren’t treating your body with care and respect.

Next Steps

  • The Self-Esteem Team (SET) run workshops in schools across the UK to help tackle young people's issues with body image, self-worth and mental health.
  • Chat about this subject on our Discussion Boards.
  • Need help but confused where to go locally? Download our StepFinder iPhone app to find local support services quickly.



By Christine Webber

Updated on 06-Jan-2016

Picture of girl smiling by volunteer photographer Zorawar Waraich