When we think of the word “positive,” most of us probably think “happy.” However, happiness isn’t the only type of positivity. There are many ways to be more positive in your life, even when you’re experiencing sadness, anger, or challenges. Research suggests that we have powerful capabilities to choose positive emotions and ways of thinking. In fact, our emotions literally change our bodies on a cellular level. Many of our experiences in life are a result of how we interpret and respond to our surroundings. Fortunately, rather than repressing or trying to “get rid” of negative feelings, we can choose to interpret and respond to them differently. You’ll find that with some practice, patience, and perseverance, you can become more positive.
Starting With Yourself
1Accept where you are. You can’t change the way you think if you can’t (or won’t) identify the problem. Accepting that you have negative thoughts and feelings, and that you don’t enjoy how you’re currently responding to them, can help you begin the process of change.
- Try not to judge yourself for your thoughts or feelings. Remember: the thoughts that pop up or the feelings you experience are not inherently “good” or “bad,” they’re just thoughts and feelings. What you can control is how you interpret and respond to them.
- Accept the things about yourself that you can’t change, too. For example, if you’re an introverted person who needs quiet time alone to “recharge,” trying to be an extrovert all the time will probably just make you feel drained and unhappy. Accept yourself for who you are right now, just as you are. You can then feel free to develop that self into the most positive self you can be!
2Make goals. Goals give us a more positive outlook on life. Research has shown that setting a realistic goal can make you feel immediately more confident and boost your self-efficacy, even if you don’t achieve the goal right away. Setting goals that are personally meaningful to you and align with your values will help you achieve them and move forward in your life.
- Start small with your goals. Don’t shoot for the moon right away. Slow and steady wins the race. Make your goals specific. The goal “be more positive” is great, but it’s so huge you probably won’t have any idea how to start. Instead, set smaller specific goals, like “Meditate twice a week” or “Smile at a stranger once a day.”
- Word your goals positively. Research shows that you’re more likely to achieve your goals if you word them positively. In other words, make your goals something you’re working toward, not trying to avoid. For example: “Stop eating junk food” is an unhelpful goal. It can cause feelings of shame or guilt. “Eat 3 servings of fruit and vegetables each day” is specific and positive.
- Keep your goals based on your own actions. Remember that you can’t control anyone else. If you set goals that require a certain response from others, you may end up feeling down if things don’t go as you hoped. Instead, set goals that depend on what you can control — your own performance.
3Practice loving-kindness meditation. Also known as metta bhavana or “compassion meditation,” this type of meditation has roots in Buddhist traditions. It teaches you to extend the feelings of love you already feel for your closest family members and extend it to others in the world. It’s also been shown to improve your resilience — your ability to bounce back from negative experiences — and your relationships with others in just a few weeks. You can see positive effects in as little as five minutes a day.
- Many places offer courses in compassion meditation. You can also check out some guided MP3 meditations online. The Center for Contemplative Mind in Society and the UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center both have free downloadable loving-kindness meditations.
- It turns out that loving-kindness meditation is also good for your mental health. Studies have shown that compassion meditation decreases symptoms of depression, suggesting that learning compassion for others may also help you extend compassion to yourself.
4Keep a journal. Recent research suggests there’s actually a mathematical formula for positivity: three positive emotions for every negative emotion seems to keep you in a healthy balance. Keeping a journal can help you see all of the emotional experiences in your day and determine where your own ratio needs adjustment. It can also help you focus on your positive experiences so that you’re more likely to remember them for later.
- Keeping a journal should be more than just a list of things you didn’t like. Research suggests that focusing only on the negative emotions and experiences in your journal will reinforce them, leading you to feel more negative.
- Instead, write down what you felt, without judging it as either good or bad. For example, a negative experience might look like this: “I felt hurt today when my coworker made a joke about my weight.”
- Then, think about your response. How did you respond in the moment? How would you choose to respond now, with a little distance? For example: “In the moment, I felt horrible about myself, like I was worthless. Now thinking back on it, I realize that my coworker says insensitive things to everyone. Someone else can’t define me or my worth. Only I can do that.”
- Try to think about how you can use these experiences as learning experiences. How can you use this for personal growth? What will you do next time? For example: “Next time someone says something hurtful, I will remember that their judgments do not define me. I will also tell my coworker that his comments are insensitive and hurt my feelings so that I remember my feelings are important.”
- Remember to include the positive things in your journal too! Taking even a few moments to note down a kindness from a stranger, a beautiful sunset, or an enjoyable chat with a friend will help you “store” these memories so that you can recall them later. Unless you focus on them, they’re likely to pass right by your notice.
5Practice active gratitude. Gratitude is more than a feeling, it’s a doing. Dozens of studies have shown that gratitude is good for you. It changes your perspective almost immediately, and the rewards keep growing the more you practice. Gratitude helps you feel more positive, enhances your relationships with others, encourages compassion, and increases feelings of happiness.  
- Some people are naturally higher in “trait gratitude,” the natural state of feeling thankful. However, you can foster an “attitude of gratitude” no matter what level of “trait gratitude” you naturally have!
- In relationships and situations, avoid approaching them like you “deserve” something from them. This doesn’t mean that you believe you deserve nothing, and it doesn’t mean you put up with mistreatment or disrespect. It just means that you should try to approach things without feeling like you’re “entitled” to a certain result, action, or benefit.
- Share your gratitude with others. Sharing your feelings of gratitude with others helps you “set” those feelings in your memory. It can also inspire positive feelings in the people you share with. See if you have a friend who’ll be your “gratitude partner” and share three things for which you’re grateful with each other every day.
- Make an effort to recognize all the little positive things that happen throughout the day. Write them down in a journal, snap photos for your Instagram, write about them on Twitter — whatever helps you recognize and remember these small things for which you’re grateful. For example, if your blueberry pancakes turned out just right, or the traffic to work wasn’t bad, or your friend gave you a compliment on your outfit, note these things! They add up quickly.
- Savor these good things. Humans have a bad tendency to focus on the negative stuff and let the positive things slide right past us. When you note the positive things in your life, take a moment to mindfully acknowledge them. Try to “store them” in your memory. For example, if you see a beautiful flower garden on your daily walk, stop for a moment and tell yourself, “This is a beautiful moment, and I want to remember how grateful I feel for it.” Try to take a mental “snapshot” of the moment. Doing so can help you remember these things later, when you’re having a hard time or a negative experience.
6Use self-affirmations. Self-affirmations may seem a little cheesy, but research suggests that they work on a fundamental level; they can actually form new “positive thought” neuron clusters. Remember: your brain likes to use short-cuts, and it will short-cut to use the pathways that are used most frequently. If you make it a regular habit to say compassionate things to yourself, your brain will come to see that as the “norm.” Positive self-talk and self-affirmations can also reduce stress and depression, boost your immune system, and increase your coping skills.
- Choose affirmations that are personally meaningful to you. You might choose to use affirmations that show compassion to your body, to your thoughts about yourself, or to remind yourself of your spiritual traditions. Whatever makes you feel positive and tranquil about yourself, do it!
- For example, you might say something like “My body is healthy and my mind is beautiful” or “Today I will do my best to be kind” or “Today my deity/spiritual figure is with me as I go through the day.”
- If you struggle with a particular area, try actively focusing on finding positive affirmations in that area. For example, if you have body image issues, try saying something like, “I am beautiful and strong” or “I can learn to love myself as I love others” or “I am worthy of love and respect.”
7Cultivate optimism. Researchers in the 1970s discovered that among people who had won the lottery — an event that most of us probably think of as incredibly positive — were no happier after a year than people who hadn’t. This is because of hedonic adaptation: humans have a “baseline” of happiness to which we return after external events (good or bad). However, even if your natural baseline is pretty low, you can actively cultivate optimism. Optimism improves your self-esteem, overall sense of well-being, and relationships with others. 
- Optimism is a way of interpreting the world. Thanks to the human brain’s flexibility, you can learn different ways of interpreting! Pessimistic outlooks view the world in unchangeable, internalized terms: “Everything is unfair,” “I’ll never be able to change this,” “My life sucks and it’s my fault.” An optimistic outlook views the world in flexible, limited terms.
- For example, a pessimistic outlook might look at the big cello recital you have next week and say, “I already suck at cello. I’m going to botch the recital anyway. I might as well just play Nintendo.” This statement makes an assumption that your cello skills are innate and permanent, rather than something you can influence with hard work. It also makes a global blaming statement about you — “I suck at cello” — that makes it seem like your cello skills are a personal failing, rather than a skill that needs practice. This pessimistic outlook could mean you don’t practice the cello because you feel like it’s pointless, or you feel guilty because you’re “bad” at something. Neither is helpful.
- An optimistic outlook would approach this situation something like this: “That big cello recital is next week, and I’m not happy with where I’m at right now. I’m going to practice an extra hour every day until the recital, and then just do my best. That’s all I can do, but at least I’ll know I worked as hard as I could to succeed.” Optimism doesn’t say challenges and negative experiences don’t exist. It chooses to interpret them differently.
- There’s a big difference between true optimism and “blind” optimism. Blind optimism might expect that you pick up the cello for the first time and get admitted to the Juilliard School. This isn’t realistic, and such expectations could leave you disappointed. True optimism acknowledges the reality of your situation and allows you to prepare yourself to face them. A truly optimistic perspective might instead expect that you’ll need to work hard for several years and even then you might not be admitted to your dream school, but you will have done all that you can to achieve your goal.
8Learn to reframe negative experiences. One of the mistakes people make is trying to avoid or ignore negative experiences. This makes sense, on some level, because they’re painful. However, trying to repress or ignore these experiences actually damages your ability to deal with them. Instead, consider how you can reframe these experiences. Can you learn from them? Can you view them differently?
- For example, consider inventor Myshkin Ingawale. In a 2012 TED Talk, Ingawale told the story about how he invented technology to save pregnant women’s lives in rural India. The first 32 times he tried to invent his device, it didn’t work. Again and again, he was faced with the opportunity to interpret his experience as failure and give up. However, he chose to use these experiences to learn from past challenges, and now his invention has helped reduce deaths of pregnant women in rural India by 50%.
- As another example, consider Dr. Viktor Frankl, who was imprisoned in a Nazi concentration camp during the Holocaust. Despite being faced with the worst of humanity, Dr. Frankl chose to interpret his situation on his own terms, writing that “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
- Instead of letting yourself immediately respond to a challenge or negative experience with negativity, take a step back and examine the situation. What really went wrong? What is really at stake? What can you learn from this to do differently next time? Has this experience taught you to be kinder, more generous, wiser, stronger? Taking a moment to reflect on the experience, rather than automatically seeing it as negative, will help you re-interpret it.
9Use your body. Your body and your mind are intimately connected. If you’re struggling to feel positive, it could be because your body is working against you. Social psychologist Amy Cuddy has shown that your posture can even affect the levels of stress hormones in your body. Try standing up straight. Hold your shoulders back and your chest forward. Hold your gaze in front of you. Take up space. This is called a “power pose,” and it can actually help you feel more confident and optimistic. 
- Smile. Research suggests that when you smile — whether you “feel” happy or not — your brain elevates your mood. This is particularly true if you use a duchenne smile, which activates the muscles around your eyes as well as your mouth. People who smiled during painful medical procedures even reported less pain than people who didn’t.
- Dress in a way that expresses yourself. What you wear affects how you feel. One study showed that people who wore lab coats while performing a simple scientific task performed much better than people who didn’t wear lab coats — even though the coat was the only difference! Find clothes that make you feel good about yourself and wear them, no matter what society tries to say about it. And don’t get hung up on investing your size with any meaning: clothing sizes are completely arbitrary, and one store’s size 4 is another store’s size 12.  Remember, no random number determines your worth!
10Get some exercise. When you exercise, your body releases powerful endorphins, the body’s natural “feel-good” chemicals. Exercise can help fight feelings of anxiety and depression. Studies have also shown that regular, moderate exercise increases your feelings of calmness and well-being.
- Aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity every day.
- You don’t have to be a bodybuilder to get the effects of exercise, either. Even moderate exercises like jogging, swimming, or gardening can help you feel more positive overall.
- Exercises that include meditation, such as yoga and tai chi, can also help you feel more positive and increase your overall health.
11Create life from within. If you want more success, focus on all the ways that you are already successful. If you want more love, focus on all the people that already care about you and the abundance of love you have to give to others. If you want to create greater health, focus on all the ways that you are healthy, and so on and so forth.
12Don’t sweat the small stuff. Everyone in life is confronted with things that seem important at the time but aren’t really an issue if we step back and have proper perspective. Research has shown that those material things that may be getting you down won’t actually make you happy. In fact, focusing on things is often a way to make up for other needs that aren’t fulfilled. Research suggests that we need five basic things to flourish in life:
- Positive emotions
- Engagement (getting really involved or swept up in something)
- Relationships with others
- Remember that you can define what these things mean for yourself! Don’t get hung up on what others have defined as “meaning” or “accomplishment.” If you don’t find personal meaning in what you do and how you act, you won’t feel good about it. Material objects, fame, and money really won’t make you happy.
Surrounding Yourself With Positive Influences
1Use the Law of Attraction. Our activity and thoughts are positive or negative like magnets. As we avoid dealing with a problem, then it continues as it is — or gets worse. Our own negativity rules the day. But, the more we think positively, the more proactively we will act and reach goals and ways to overcome and accept positive options — and these will bring their rewards. In fact, positive thoughts can even boost your immune system!
2Do things you love to do. It sounds simple, but it’s hard to execute sometimes. Your life may be very busy, so carve some tasks into your day that consistently make you happy. When you do something that you love, you are distracted from being sad or negative. Some positive activities that you can do are:
- Listening to music. Listen to the genre you like.
- Reading. Reading is good for you. It can even teach you empathy. And, if you’re reading non-fiction, it can help you learn new information and perspectives on the world.
- Creative expression, e.g. painting, writing, origami, etc.
- Sports, hobbies, etc.
- Being with friends and family.
- The awe-inspiring. Studies show that the feeling of awe or wonderment you experience when you’re walking in nature, viewing a stunning painting, or listening to your favorite symphony is great for your health, both physically and mentally. Find ways to incorporate a little wonder into your life whenever you can.
3Surround yourself with friends. Appreciate the people in your life who have stood by you through thick and thin. Enlist their support to help you become more positive, and in the process you will probably help them too. Friends help each other through both the good and bad times.
- Studies have shown that people who surround themselves with friends who have similar values and outlooks are more likely to feel happy and positive about their lives than people who don’t.
- Interacting with people you love causes your brain to release neurotransmitters that make you feel happy (dopamine) and relaxed (serotonin). Spending time with friends and loved ones will actually make you feel more positive on a chemical level!
- You can also encourage your friends and loved ones to become your gratitude partners. If you foster a network of sharing things you’re grateful for, imagine the positivity that you can help each other develop!
4Show compassion to others. Compassion is doing something kind for someone else, especially if that person is less privileged than you are. It can really boost your positivity. For example, research has shown that when people give to charity, they actually feel as happy as they do when they get the money themselves! Think of ways that you can serve others, whether it’s on an individual level or in your community, and practice showing compassion. Not only is it good for others, it’s even good for your health!
- Like leads to like. If we do something nice for someone else, especially if it’s unexpected, there’s a higher chance that person will pay the favor back, maybe not directly to us, but to someone else. Eventually, in a direct or indirect way, it’ll make its way back to us. Some people call this karma. Whatever it’s called, scientific studies have shown that the “pay it forward” principle is a real thing.
- Try tutoring, volunteering, or ask your church how you can get involved.
- Make a microloan to someone in need. A microloan of even a few dollars to a person in a developing country can help her grow her business or become economically independent. And most microloans have 95+ repayment rates, too.
- Try giving little gifts to people around you, even strangers. Buy a random person in line a cup of coffee. Send a friend something you made with him in mind. Giving gifts stimulates the production of dopamine in your brain — in fact, you may even get a bigger “happiness rush” from it than the person getting the gift!
5Find an optimistic quote or saying and keep it in your wallet or pocket. When you’re a little unsure or feeling like a pick-me-up, check it for a quick reference. Here are some famous quotes you might start off with:
- How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world. ― Anne Frank
- The optimist proclaims that we live in the best of all possible worlds, and the pessimist fears this is true. ― James Branch Cabell
- The greatest discovery of all time is that a person can change his future by merely changing his attitude. ― Oprah Winfrey
- If you hear a voice within you say “you cannot paint,” then by all means paint and that voice will be silenced. ― Vincent Van Gogh
6See a therapist. A common misperception is that people only “need” to see a counselor or therapist when there’s something “wrong.” But consider: you go to the dentist for cleanings, even when you don’t have cavities. You go to the doctor for annual checkups, even if you’re not sick. Seeing a therapist can also be a helpful “preventive” technique. And if you want to learn how to think and behave more positively, a therapist or counselor can help you identify unhelpful patterns in your thinking and develop new, positive strategies.
- You can ask your physician for a referral, or check out directories online. If you have health insurance, your provider can tell you about counselors in your network.
- Low-cost options often exist. Check online for mental health clinics, community health centers, even public-service counseling centers run by colleges and universities.
Avoiding Negative Influences
1Avoid negative influences. Humans are highly susceptible to “emotional contagion,” meaning that the feelings of those around us influence our own. Steer clear of bad behavior and negativity so that it will not rub off on you.
- Choose your friends wisely. The friends we surround ourselves with can have an overwhelming impact on our outlooks — both good and bad. If your friends are always being negative, consider sharing your own positivity process with them. Encourage them to learn ways of being positive, too. If they’re still bent on staying negative, you may need to detach from them for your own sake.
- Do only what you feel comfortable with. If you don’t feel comfortable doing something, you’re likely to feel bad, guilty, or concerned about doing it. That doesn’t make for a positive experience. Learning to say “no” to things you don’t want to do can help you feel stronger and more at ease with yourself. This is true with friends and loved ones and in work situations. 
2Challenge negative thoughts. It’s easy to get swept up into a pattern of “automatic” or habitual negative thinking, especially about ourselves. We can become our own harshest critics. Each time you encounter a negative thought, take the time to challenge it. Try to turn it into a positive thought or find the logical flaw in the negative thought. If you do this long enough, it will become habitual, and it’ll make a tremendous difference in improving your positive thinking skills. Say “I can!” more than “I can’t!” Remember, everything can be framed positively; make a relentless effort to do so.
- For example, if you get angry and snap at a friend, your instinct might be to think, “I’m a horrible person.” This is a cognitive distortion: it makes a general statement about a specific incident. It creates feelings of guilt but not anything that you can use to learn from.
- Instead, accept responsibility for your action and consider what you should do in response. For example: “I snapped at my friend, which probably hurt her feelings. I was wrong. I will apologize to her, and next time, I will ask to take a little break when we’re discussing something intense.” This way of thinking doesn’t generalize yourself as “horrible,” but as a person who made a mistake and can learn and grow from it.
- If you find that you frequently have negative thoughts about yourself (or others), make it a habit to find three positive things to say about yourself for every negative one. For example, if the thought shows up that you’re “stupid,” challenge that thought with three positive ones: “I’m having the thought that I’m stupid. But just last week I finished that big project to rave reviews. I have solved difficult problems in the past. I am a capable person and am just having a hard time right now.”
- Even when we don’t get what we want, we gain valuable experience. Experiences are often much more valuable than material things. Material things slowly waste away; experiences stay with us, growing, our entire lives.
- There are both positive and negative aspects in most situations. We get to choose which ones we will focus on. We can try to catch ourselves when we’re being negative and try thinking the opposite.
- There’s no sense in worrying about the negatives if they cannot be changed. Some parts of life are “unfair.” That’s because life just “is.” If we waste energy and happiness on the things we can’t change, we’ll only make ourselves more frustrated.
3Deal with past traumas. If you find yourself feeling consistently unhappy, upset, or negative, you may have some underlying issues that need to be dealt with. Seek professional help in dealing with traumas, such as past abuse, exposure to stresses, natural disasters, grief, and loss.
- Look for a licensed mental health professional, particularly one who specializes in treating trauma if you can find one. Working through your traumas with a counselor or therapist can be difficult, even painful, but you will emerge stronger and more positive at the end.
4Don’t be afraid of failure. To paraphrase Franklin D. Roosevelt, the only thing we have to fear is fear itself. We will fall down and make mistakes. It’s about how we get back up again that counts. If we’re expecting to succeed, but not afraid of failure, we have the best chance of staying positive throughout it all.