Changing Negative Thinking – Why Bother With a Positive Outlook?

smiling Chinese girl
photo by Linh Ngân

You may see all this talk about improving your outlook on life and wonder, “Why?  What’s wrong with looking at things from a negative point of view?  After all, it’s just being realistic, and I’m not unhappy.  Constantly looking for the positive in everything can be exhausting, and it’s self-deception.  I’m being honest with myself, and other people, which is more important than a false sense of happiness.  I live in the real world, not a fantasy world.”  Does any of this sound familiar?

I’ve mentioned ways to turn negative thinking into positive thinking before, but I kind of skimmed over the “why” part of the equation.  That’s what I want to talk about today.  Because in order to make changes in our lives, we need reasons for all the effort it’s going to take.  We need to know what’s in it for us.

Happiness

Obvious, I know.  But this is, by far, the biggest benefit of having a positive outlook on life.  I mentioned in the opening that you may not be unhappy with a negative outlook on life, but there’s a huge difference between not being unhappy and being happy, and there are degrees of happiness.  You have the power to choose your level of happiness, and you do this by choosing how to look at things in your life.  The more good you see, the less you dwell on the bad, and the more you take the negatives and turn them into opportunities and learning experiences, the happier you’ll feel about life.

Not to mention, having more of the things I’m going to talk about below (success, friends, health, energy) will make you happier, too.

Success

Perhaps more important than being materially successful, feeling successful depends on seeing things in a positive light.  Seeing only the negatives means seeing only failures and setbacks, and it overlooks the progress made and the opportunities in a situation.  It’s like the parent of the honor roll student who dwells only on the one “B” on their child’s report card and is disappointed in the child.  In most people’s eyes, the child was an academic success, something to be proud of and to encourage.  But by focusing only on the negative, the child feels like a failure, and the parent sees a failure.

This outlook also makes you more likely to give up on things, or to never start them at all, since everything seems doomed to failure.  This isn’t exactly the best attitude if you want to be successful at anything.  You can’t succeed if you never try, and you’ll never try if you don’t see any positive reason to do so.  The honor student I mentioned before is more likely to give up trying to succeed in school than a “C” student whose parents focus on his one “B” and praise him for his improvement and effort.  Who do you think feels more successful?  Who do you think sees a reason to keep trying?

Friendship

Negative people are a drag, plain and simple.  Sometimes, their wit and charisma can temper their cynicism and negativity and make them amusing at times, but constant negativity is draining.  People with a positive outlook, on the other hand, are invigorating and contagious.  Their happiness and feelings of success draw people to them in the same way that the cynic pushes people away.  We want to be around people that make us feel good, and negative people rarely do so; they usually either depress us or annoy us with their negative outlook on life.  Positive people make us feel better by helping us to see the bright side, and they often encourage us when we want to give up.

If you want to make and keep friends, make people feel good when they’re around you.  If you’re lonely, consider the way you see the world.  Improve that, and the number and quality of your friendships will improve as well.

Health

According to the Mayo Clinic, positive thinking improves health in a number of ways.

Health benefits that positive thinking may provide include:

  • Increased life span
  • Lower rates of depression
  • Lower levels of distress
  • Greater resistance to the common cold
  • Better psychological and physical well-being
  • Reduced risk of death from cardiovascular disease
  • Better coping skills during hardships and times of stress

Need I say more?  I think the Mayo Clinic pretty much covered it.

Energy

Depending on how deeply ingrained your habit off seeing things in a negative light, it may take a lot of initial effort and mental energy to turn your thinking around.  This is true of changing any habit.  But the payoff is worth it.

When you start trying to change your negative outlook to a more positive one, you may find yourself mentally exhausted by the end of the day.  You may start to think I’m crazy because you have even less energy than before.  Give it some time.  After you start to get into the habit of seeing your glass as half full, you’ll find you have more energy in your day to day life.  This is because negative thinking and negativity in general is exhausting; it’s discouraging and doesn’t motivate us at all.  Positivity, on the other hand, makes us feel good and motivates us to act.  And anyone who’s exercised at all, even by doing something as simple as taking a brisk walk, knows that while it’s a bit counter-intuitive, action is energizing.

What do you think?

Are you convinced?  Do you need more reasons to make your outlook on life more positive?  Do you have any more reasons you can share with us?  Please, comment.

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Pam is a preschool teacher and writer with a background in psychology and child development. She's available for freelance work, private consulting, or just a nice chat. Connect with her on Google+, Twitter, Facebook, or via email at p.komarnicki AT social-discomfort DOT com.

5 Responses to Changing Negative Thinking – Why Bother With a Positive Outlook?

  1. Thanks so much for this post. I’ve often thought of how my attitude influences how I feel – physically and emotionally. This was a great reminder today!

  2. Totally agree. Live with a negative thinker and see how it affects him and yourself. People stay away from you because of that person and how he/she makes them feel. Usually they have only acquaintances not friends. I have broken loose and don’t worry about how the other person sees the world. A large group of friends, sans couples unfortunately, to enjoy. Life is good.

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