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6 Ways to Cultivate Positive Thinking

Surefire tips to pull yourself out of a funk

By Julie Weingarden Dubin | Grandparents.com | August 20, 2014
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(This article previously appeared on Grandparents.com.)

The flowers and birds offer a picturesque scene, yet you're in a funk. You're not finding things to look forward to, and when you think about trying a new activity or getting projects done, you ask yourself, "Why bother?"

Well, the good news is that a shift in your thinking may be all you need revitalize your day and find perspective.

You can learn to turn your thinking from negative to positive, according to doctors at Mayo Clinic. It takes practice, but in time you can create a new habit.

A simple first step: Don't say anything to yourself that you wouldn't say to anyone else. If negative thoughts stream through your mind, evaluate them rationally and respond with affirmations of your good points.

Below are more ways to find your optimism >>

Get Nostalgic


Don't be afraid to look back. Nostalgia is positively associated with a sense of meaning in life. So go ahead, play your favorite Beatles or Motown songs, write down cherished memories, taste a favorite candy you ate as a kid or look through old photos; these activities can trigger imagery and emotions from the past, which can actually give you a positive outlook for the future.

Not only does nostalgia help combat loneliness and maintain a psychological comfort, it also raises self-esteem — increasing your optimism. Research from the University of Southampton published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin found that memories of the past can help you strengthen your feelings of self-worth and see a brighter outlook for the future.

(MORE: Why Nostalgia Is Good for You)

Be Good to Your Body


Studies show that optimistic people have better stress-management tactics, healthier hearts and a lower risk for stroke compared to those who tend to see doom and gloom.

Researchers at Harvard School of Public Health reviewed more than 200 studies in 2012 and found that optimism, life satisfaction and happiness are linked to a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease. Optimists work harder at stress management. They're proactive about exercising and more likely to eat well.

Other ways to manage stress: meditate, practice positive self-talk, maintain a strong social network and do something you truly enjoy — like playing with your grandchildren, reading or walking your dog.

Mood and exercise have a two-way relationship, with each influencing the other. According to research published in the American Heart Association journal, Circulation, heart disease patients with positive attitudes live longer. Researchers used a questionnaire to assess the moods of 600 heart disease patients in a Denmark hospital. Five years later, the researchers found that the most positive patients exercised more and had a 42 percent less chance of dying for any reason during the follow-up period.

Think Positive and Change Your Mood


Do you believe in yourself? Do you expect good things to happen? Do you see small bumps as minor setbacks that you can overcome? Well, you should. An upbeat mindset helps trigger optimism. It's not always what happens to you — it's how you react to your circumstances.

Negative things are going to crop up, but we can change how we respond to them. According to Elaine Fox, author of Rainy Brain, Sunny Brain: How to Retrain Your Brain to Overcome Pessimism and Achieve a More Positive Outlook, if you make an effort to change your mindset, you may actually change your thinking. Neurons in our brains can be reshaped by new thought patterns. We can rewire our brains to get better at seeing the positives.

(MORE: What Can Hope Do For You?)

Live on the Bright Side


Turn off the news or negative reality shows. Watch a funny movie with a friend. This helps boost your mood, which allows you to think in more optimistic ways. (And while we're on the subject of friends — stay away from the Debbie Downers and surround yourself with positive people because positivity is contagious.)

But funny doesn't mean putting yourself down — even if it's joking. When you say things like, "I can't remember a thing," it gets absorbed in your subconscious and then becomes even more true in your mind, says Elizabeth Lombardo, clinical psychologist and author of A Happy You: Your Ultimate Prescription for Happiness. So smile — even if it's a stretch. Sometimes you just need to fake it until you make it.

Find Three Things


Maybe you've been dealing with a bum knee or you're not able to retire as early as you had hoped — no worries. Everyone has circumstances they wish they could change, or wishes for life to be easier in some way. But whenever you notice yourself feeling down, force yourself to identify at least three things that are going well. (And we can all find three things!)

Maybe you feel blessed that your grandchildren love to cuddle with you or that you have the most beautiful garden on the block or that your dog is healthy.

If you're having a bad day, focus on (1) the people you love, (2) the freedom you have to make changes and (3) the fact that your body is healthy enough to move around. "This stops you from negative filtering (focusing on the negative) and helps you see some of the positives that are right in front of you," says Lombardo.

It can also help to write in a gratitude journal. Every day, write about three positive things in your life.

(MORE: The Invaluable Lessons of Pollyanna)

Be a Joiner


Why should young people have all the fun with art, karate, and piano lessons?

When was the last time you rode a bike or took dance or swim lessons? Any free time you have can be fun time. It's all how you look at it.

Join a knitting club, volunteer at a hospital or take a gourmet cooking class. When you find joy in your activities and hobbies, you have things to look forward to and it gives you a hopefulness and confidence for the future. You start to wonder what awaits you the next day and you think about the possibilities: Will I meet people in class? Will I improve my skills?