4 Ways to Keep a Positive Mindset No Matter What

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "The Happiness Project" by Gretchen Rubin. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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Do you often find yourself stuck in negative thinking, entertaining what could go wrong, or mulling over sad memories? What are some things you can do to keep a positive mindset?

Chances are, you’ve probably had someone tell you to “cheer up!” or “look on the bright side.” And while there’s no doubt they mean well, it can be difficult to keep a positive mindset at all times.

Here are some simple ways to keep a positive mindset and focus on joy over negativity.

Could Do With More Positivity?

Cultivating a happy mindset puts you in the right mood to compound your happiness with happiness-boosting behaviors. To keep a positive mindset, focus on ways to become more cheerful, content, and pleasant toward others: finding reasons to laugh, practicing politeness, searching for the positive, and finding a mental escape. 

1) Find Reasons to Laugh 

Laughter has the obvious side effect of making you happy, along with lowering your blood pressure and stress levels, helping ease conflicts, and strengthening social bonds with others. What’s less obvious is that your laughter goes a long way toward making others happy. There are several ways to come up with more occasions for laughter. 

  • Indulge in others’ attempts to make you laugh. This makes them feel good, as we all enjoy being the one to make another laugh, and it helps diminish your self-centered or prideful tendencies by forcing you to really listen to what others are saying—instead of lining up your own witty comment. 
  • Force laughter if you need to—such as when your child is telling you the same joke for the 50th time. This will delight them and their emotions will be bounced back at you, so your forced laughter may very quickly become real. 
  • Take yourself less seriously and be willing to laugh at yourself more. This often has a cheering effect that dissipates the stress of a situation, while defensiveness makes you ruminate on negative feelings. For example, if your art gets a critical review you might laugh about the critic’s colorful descriptions of your pieces, instead of sulking. 

2) Practice Politeness 

To become more pleasant and kind toward others, focus on practicing good manners and conscientiousness. In our busy lives, we often skip over politeness because we’re too caught up in our own stresses. To work against this, be on the lookout for small ways to be more considerate of others—such as giving up your seat on the bus, letting someone with just one item skip ahead of you in line at the store, or offering to help someone with their luggage.

Be a Better Conversation Partner

One place that many people are guilty of bad manners is in conversation. Listen to yourself carefully and make sure that you’re not adopting any rude conversation personalities.

  • One-uppers always respond to the speaker with a better or more extreme example in their own lives. This looks like, “Oh you think that’s painful? Listen to what happened to me last year.”
  • Know-it-alls hijack the conversation to demonstrate how much they know about the subject at hand. This looks like, “Did you know that the region you visited in France is the only one where they speak Ch’ti?” 
  • Interrupters cut others off in the middle of their sentences to ask questions or respond. 
  • Non-listeners don’t actually listen to the people they’re speaking to—instead, they’re thinking about the next thing they want to add to the conversation.
  • Debbie Downers detract from someone’s experience by adding how much they disliked the experience. This looks like, “How can you like Marvel movies? I find them so boring.” 

Beyond cutting out your bad conversation manners, find ways to give the floor to others. You might respond to someone’s expertise with, “That’s interesting, tell me more.” You can let someone share an interesting story by saying, “Tell everyone about…” Or, follow up your addition to the conversation with, “What do you think about it?” 

Pinpoint What Makes You Rude

Keeping an eye out for external factors that might be making you act rudely. For example, Rubin found that alcohol made her argumentative and obnoxious, and she often came away from parties feeling guilty and anxious instead of happy. She decided to cut back on alcohol and found that she behaved much better, which made her much happier. For you, the external factor might be too-loud music, hunger, or being too hot or cold. Once you find what prompts your rude tendencies, find a way to mitigate it—such as always carrying a snack or a sweater in your bag.

3) Search for the Positive

Many people instinctively prefer to be critical, rather than enthusiastic, about things—for several self-serving and defensive reasons. 

  • Being critical feels—and is often perceived as—a trait of sophistication or intelligence. 
  • It’s very easy. Being critical of or detached from something, such as reality television or a cheesy band, is much easier than leaning into your enthusiasm for it.

While expressing enthusiasm might be the harder and more unpopular choice, it comes with the benefit of lifting others’ moods and making them feel more enthusiastic as well. Imagine that your friend invites a group out to see a roller derby competition. She loves the sport, and cheers loudly and encourages your group to join in—though most of the group don’t particularly like roller derby, all of you end up getting excited about the match. 

There are three ways to commit yourself to searching for the positive and expressing enthusiasm as much as possible. 

  • Look for ways to be positive about everything, even things you don’t like. For example, when you’re trying oysters for the first time, don’t say, “These have the worst taste and texture.” Instead, try, “It was fun to try something new.” 
  • Try to deliver criticism in a more positive way. Instead of telling your child, “Stop playing your recorder. You’re driving me nuts,” try, “You’ve practiced your recorder so much today. I think you deserve a break.” 
  • Create a visual reminder to stick to positive comments. Rubin chose to wear a bright orange bracelet. You might put a sticky note on the side of your monitor, or wear a ring that reminds you.

4) Find a Mental Escape 

One thing that goes a long way toward adjusting your mindset is finding ways to avoid negative thoughts. Humans naturally have a “negativity bias”—that is, we remember and ruminate on negative things much more than on positive things. Of course, it’s not possible to avoid everything negative in your life, but you can keep yourself in an overall positive mindset if you create a mental escape that helps you avoid the rumination spiral that comes on the heels of a negative experience. 

For example, your mental escape might be thinking about funny things your spouse or children have done, writing down the little things in life that bring you joy, or going for a long walk and focusing only on the sounds around you.

4 Ways to Keep a Positive Mindset No Matter What

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Darya Sinusoid

Darya’s love for reading started with fantasy novels (The LOTR trilogy is still her all-time-favorite). Growing up, however, she found herself transitioning to non-fiction, psychological, and self-help books. She has a degree in Psychology and a deep passion for the subject. She likes reading research-informed books that distill the workings of the human brain/mind/consciousness and thinking of ways to apply the insights to her own life. Some of her favorites include Thinking, Fast and Slow, How We Decide, and The Wisdom of the Enneagram.

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