You’ve heard it many times, and stated in different ways: “You need to keep up a positive attitude if you’re going to succeed”; “Use the power of positive thinking when you’re faced with difficult challenges”; “If you have a positive outlook on life, you’ll be much happier”; “Focus on the positives and you’ll feel much better.”
Attitude, positive thinking, optimistic outlook, upbeat focus…you’re told that all of these positive mindsets will make your life much easier to manage. We don’t disagree that a can-do, confident, and proactive viewpoint can help with whatever is facing you and increase your odds of success. But is it that simple? Maybe not.
First of all, your optimism must be realistic. We have touched on that theme often in this blog. You can’t surround your attitudes with fantasy, illusions, and imaginary outcomes. You will head quickly toward failure, frustration, disappointment, and self-blame. Secondly, your positive thoughts and attitudes must be accompanied by actions. When unaccompanied by concrete, real actions, even positive thoughts vanish in the wind.
When based on positive thinking, actions bring thoughts into reality and allow you to see yourself behaving in productive ways. The best example of this process is when you serve others. Doing so is likely to give you feelings of satisfaction, pleasure, and happiness, emotions that are signals you are coping effectively through personal empowerment, and that you are giving substance to your optimism.
Notice the distinction here between “seeking” happiness, and “finding” happiness. “Seeking” makes you the main ingredient of the happiness recipe and lulls you into a kind of personal enabling where you see yourself as virtuous and righteous. In a coping context, this orientation is selfish, pompous, smug, and likely to fail.
“Finding,” however, allows happiness to emerge from your altruistic actions, and brings you feelings of humility, gratitude, and personal appreciation of your efforts as sincere, open, and authentic. This coping orientation will help you feel you are participating with life in ways that will give you confidence to face your stresses and challenges.
Here’s the coping lesson: Don’t look for happiness and other wonderful emotions and feelings. Rather, allow yourself to find them by acting in ways that don’t make you the center of attention. Depressed, anxious, adrift, lost, unfulfilled, frustrated? Stop cooking with life recipes that make you the main ingredient.