How to be positive in 2016 is the first article I decided to post this year amidst a wide array of relevant new year articles like “How To Make Your New Year’s Resolution Stick” or “How To Eliminate our Christmas Bellies”, simply because for many people, New Year equates to a new start [New Year = New Start]. It is a tabula rasa – a blank slate where one can begin a new chapter of his life. And what’s a more better way to start a new chapter in life this 2016 than to learn the fundamental principles in how to be positive that will enable you to have more time and energy this 2016 for you to flourish.
(Note: The terms “positive” and “happiness” were used interchangeably in this article)
THE FLAWED “IF-THEN” MODEL
Before I discuss the principles on how to be positive this 2016, I’ll give a short background about the “if-then model”, a mental model that is fundamentally flawed but a model adopted by 80% of people globally.
Srikumar Rao, author of Happiness at Work, explained that the “if-then model” is a flawed mental model because it forces us to make our happiness (us being positive) dependent on goals which are completely out of our control. Our goals follow the pattern of the “if-then model”:
“If I get my wants/needs, then I will be happy”
We have goals like:
If I land a higher paying job this year, then I will be happy
If I buy the newest Iphone model, then I will be happy
If I get good grades, then I will be happy
But if the “if-then model” is correct, all employees who land a higher paying job, all consumer with the newest Iphone brand, and all students who have good grades, should’ve been all happy. However, it’s not the case. We are just setting up higher and higher goals: we look for even higher paying jobs, we want the upcoming Iphone brand, we aim for better grades. We just keep pushing our goals and, subsequently, our happiness higher and higher.
Therefore, for us to be positive this 2016, we have to change our long held belief on a flawed mental model.
Let me share to you a story.
THE STORY OF SIR ROGER BANNISTER AND THE 4-MINUTE MILE
In the 1940s to early 1950s, experts and scientists concluded that it was not physically and mathematically possible for any human being to run a mile in under four minutes – this is the so-called four-minute mile barrier. They said that it was beyond our capacity to accomplish such feat. That our anatomy was not designed to break the four-minute barrier. That it was simply impossible. However, in 1954, Sir Roger Bannister, an English middle-distance athlete, was the first person to run a mile under four minutes – 3:59.4 seconds to be exact. Then, Sir Bannister’s record was broken again just 47 days after. From that point on, more and more people broke the record as they’ve known that it was possible.
Today, the mile record was lowered by almost 17 seconds.
What can we learn from this story?
The four-minute mile barrier was a popular belief before, and breaking it was perceived as impossible – a myth even. The same way that the Theory of Evolution or Global Warming were myths for many, even received with hostility. But the story of Sir Roger Bannister’s accomplishment to break the four-minute mile barrier proves that long-held beliefs are not definite nor are always correct. Just like previous beliefs like “the earth is flat”, “the earth is the center of the universe”, or that “Filipinos are savages” or “homosexuality is a psychological disorder”.
The story of Sir Roger Bannister and the 4-minute mile teaches us that long-held beliefs are not set on stone even though they guise as facts. The same way that the flawed “if-then model” can’t be overcome because it is both a popular and a longstanding belief. These doesn’t make it correct too.
Luckily, recent developments in neuroscience provides proof that we can still change our flawed mental model for us to learn how to be positive, the right way.
NEUROPLASTICITY AND HOW TO BE POSITIVE
The concept of neuroplasticity, the brains ability to ‘rewire’ itself as a response to environmental, behavioral, or neural changes, was a story much like of Sir Roger Bannister and the 4-minute mile. It was once a myth. Scientists believed for so long that adult brains are essentially fixed in form and function. That we cannot “teach old dogs new tricks”. However, recent studies showed that we can. Neuroplasticity is real.
Neuroplasticity proves that our brain has the ability to reorganize pathways, create connections, and even create new neurons in a daily basis. It also proves that we have greater control of our brain than previously thought. So, even if happiness is not our natural disposition, we can still train our brain on how to be positive through constant practice, the same way London Cab Drivers trained theirs.
This also means that even if the “if-then model” is a belief deeply permeated in the people’s consciousness for generations, it can still be changed. We can still learn how to be positive the right way. All we need is to religiously exercise the techniques on how to be positive and get rid of the “if-then model”.
Now, let us learn the techniques.
HOW TO BE POSITIVE IN 2016
In my first book How To Live A Happy Life, I discussed 21 ways to be positive in life. It’s a valuable resource to learn simple yet specific practices that’ll help you live a happy life. Nonetheless, take a look at more general and encompassing techniques on how to be positive below.
Pursue Meaningful Life Goals.
Create something to look forward to. Those that have intimate meaning to you. A recent study suggests that if there is something more important to life than being happy it is having meaning. Meaningful life goals give a sense of direction in our life. These serve as road maps. Having meaningful life goals will help you chart your life better as you will not aimlessly ramble and wander.
I suggest that you create a bucket list that is based on your core values, passions, and life philosophy (not a simple travel or adventure list). So, you’ll be able to effectively systematize and visualize your life goals. Giving you more a coherent “life map”. Having something meaningful such a bucket list will surely give you happiness because anticipating something in the future activates pleasure centers in your brain similar to getting the rewards itself, studies suggest.
Download the 14 Days Bucket List Challenge a two weeks step-by-step ultimate guide that’ll help you create a bucket list that is genuinely you and pursue your goals.
One important thing to learn about how to be positive, however, is to focus your energy in the life goals only to the extent that it gives you direction. Afterwards, focus all your energy in the process. That is, the journey towards completing your life goals. Otherwise, you will be succumbed by the flawed “if-then model” discussed above.
Cultivate A Grateful Mindset
Cultivating a grateful mindset is another technique on how to be positive. Gratitude is an affirmation of goodness in our lives. It doesn’t mean that life is perfect, but it helps us magnify the positive in the world around us. That amidst the problems, challenges, and burdens, there are still some amount of positive life aspects, and gratitude encourages us to actively look for these.
There are numerous benefits of gratitude that are scientifically proven, from improving physical and psychological health to improving social relationships as gratitude is ultimately a social emotion. But more importantly, gratitude cultivates optimism. A rational and realistic type of optimism that help us withstand life trials and tribulations, as it helps us view life in its entirety and not be overwhelmed by temporary circumstances. Gratitude, therefore, helps us cope with bad times as much as during the good.
Robert Emmons, the world’s leading scientific expert in gratitude, discussed 10 ways to cultivate a grateful mindset. One of the ways is to keep a Gratitude Journal. It is a diary of sort about the good things you enjoy and are grateful of – a movie night, a promotion, or a beautiful rainbow.
Cultivating a grateful mindset lets you focus on the positive aspects of life.
Hold To Close Social Relationships
“Happiness is love. Full stop.” This is how Dr. George Vaillant concluded his 75-year longitudinal study known as the Grant and Glueck Study. He equates love with close social relationships that keep us healthier and happier. This longest and most comprehensive study, according to The Atlantic, also reveals that close relationships matter. That for us to learn how to be positive, we must prioritize the quality of our social relationship. “Quality over quantity”. Our relationship with our family and friends are more important than our relationship with weaker ties because the former is more stable and provides greater support.
The quality of our social relationship is the number one contributor to happiness according to Martin Seligman, pioneer of Positive Psychology. Close relationships keep us grounded and influence our sense of being part of something larger than ourselves.
If the Grant and Glueck Study leaves us with something definite, it is that people filled with close and rich relationships from family, friends and partner, are the ones who are the happiest and fared best in life.
So, another technique on how to be positive in 2016 is to hold to close social relationships.
Trust me. It’s backed by 75 years worth of science.
HOW TO BE POSITIVE: CHALLENGING PERSPECTIVES
“Happiness comes from within. It is not dependent on external things or on other people” – Brian L. Weiss
Happiness is our innate nature. According to Srikumar Rao, “there is nothing you have to get, do, or be, in order to be happy.” This is why the “if-then model” is wrong. You don’t need to anchor your happiness in promotions, grades, or phones. You have to challenge your perspectives. Ultimately, learning how to be positive is a matter of mindset. As Buddha once said, “The mind is everything. What you think, you become.”
I’m sure you’re very familiar of the story about two shoe salesmen whose company sends them to a remote country. The first salesman reported to their office, “Nobody here wears shoes, terrible disaster!” The second salesman reported, “Nobody here wears shoes, glorious opportunity!” The lesson of the story is that your perspectives define your mindset. How we experience the world is based on our perspective. One situation can be perceived in many different ways. It is just a matter of what mental model you are using.
Now, let me give you a simple yet life changing model on how to be positive.
THE HAPPINESS ADVANTAGE
Happiness → Success
“Happiness leads to success”
His research is very important because it proves that our long-held belief that success leads to happiness – that we become happy because we succeed in work, in study, in life (in short, our “if-then model”) – is not only fundamentally incorrect, but it’s also the other way around. It also means that we can capitalize on being positive to improve our productivity and performance, and our life in general.
LIVE YOUR LIFE TOWARDS YOUR OWN HAPPINESS?
All that I’ve discussed above point to only one conclusion, happiness is a way of travel – not a destination. We must enjoy the journey (the process of living life itself), more than the goal/outcome. We must invest on our goals until it serves as a road map. But we must invest more in enjoying the “road”.
I’ve learned during the last quarters of 2015 that it’s not really about living your life towards your own happiness. Rather, it is being happy towards the life you’re living. Remember, that happiness is your innate nature. That there is nothing you have to get, do, or be, in order to be happy. All you need to do is accept the universe as it is.
How to be positive is about gratitude and contentment. It is about pursuing meaningful life goals only to the point that it gives life direction. It is about close social relationships. Happiness is about love. Full stop.
“Happiness is your innate nature. There’s nothing you have to get, do, or be, in order to be happy.
All you need to do is accept the universe as it is.” – Srikumar Rao
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