If looking on the bright side feels harder than usual right now, you’re not alone. After a turbulent year, people up and down the country are feeling tired, jaded, and in dire need of a spring in their step – and with no immediately obvious remedy in sight.
Taking a proactive approach to positive thinking is, however, important for our health. Recent research carried out by the US National Academy of Sciences found that being optimistic can have a significant impact upon our life span, even increasing it by up to 15 per cent. That said: “Our brains are designed to see the glass as half empty, so we need to interrupt our autopilot and adopt some new thinking,” says health coach Milla Lascelles.
So, if you’re struggling to spot the silver linings, familiarise yourself with Vogue’s eight easy tips for getting back in touch with your inner optimist.
Yes, you’ve heard it before, but living in the moment and experiencing life as it comes fosters an increased sense of calm. “A lot of people torture themselves over getting to ‘destination happiness’, and live preoccupied with the idea that happiness lies in the next place, the next job and with the next partner,” says Lascelles. “Until you give up the idea that happiness is somewhere else, it will never be where you are.” She recommends setting several periodic phone calendar invites each day to remind you to stop and take note of what you’re doing, breathe and observe your thoughts and feelings. It’ll help you proceed mindfully and, eventually, you won’t need a reminder.
Write down what you are grateful for
Start each morning by writing down what you are grateful for. Lascelles recommends focusing on the three Ps: a person, a pleasure and a promise that you are grateful for. It can be as small or simple as you like, but noting down the things that make a positive difference in your life can help change your mindset. “It brings instant happiness and joy, and can flick your emotions like a switch,” she explains.
Surround yourself with positive thinkers
In his excellent book Think Like A Monk, Jay Shetty describes the impact negative friends or colleagues can have on our own mindset – and vice versa. Negativity is infectious so, if you’re in need of a switch-up, surround yourself with optimists and log out of social media sites (bye, Twitter) where others are complaining.
The benefits of time in nature for mental health are well-documented. A recent study found that just 50 minutes walking in a city park led to happier moods, better memory and increased attention span for most people. An extra 40 minutes on top of that and you‘ll notice brain-changing results that help ward off depression. Getting outside helps regulate our cortisol levels, meaning we’re less likely to suffer from anxiety, low moods and stress, so it makes sense to utilise what’s free and, on our doorsteps, – even a relaxed lunchtime stroll will do the trick.
Remind yourself of the positive
“Negative experiences stick to the brain in microseconds, like Velcro, whereas positive ones take at least 20 seconds of our attention to embed into our memories,” says Lascelles. “Rest your attention on a positive experience in your life and focus on it for 30 seconds. Put all your efforts into focusing on that experience and summon the happy memories you associated with it, bringing every element of your senses into the memory of it.” You'll notice not just a renewed sense of positivity, but an increased ability to deal with stress, too.
Treat your body and mind
It might sound simple but self-care should be top of your list when you’re feeling down. Consider the things that bring you enjoy and incorporate them into your everyday routine. That could be indulging in a 15 minute home facial, applying a full face of make-up, or something as simple as making yourself a nutritious lunch. Whatever it is, prioritise it and take notice of the positive feelings it brings.
Change the way you hold yourself
Ever heard of a power pose? Studies have shown that adopting postures in which we stand “expansively” (open shoulders and a tall, upright and open stance), can help us feel more confident in ourselves. “Power poses can decrease cortisol levels by 25 per cent, so they’re fantastic for making you feel happier,” says Lascelles.
An everyday meditation practice can actually structurally change the human brain and help ease depression, physical pain and the kind of mind wandering that leads to unceasing negative thoughts, while conversely increasing awareness. Download a meditation app like Calm or Headspace and do it daily, trying not to give up if it feels like it’s not working. It’s not a miracle cure, but it will help boost your mood: “It’s free. Do it,” says Lascelles.
Written by Hannah Coates.
This article originally appeared on British Vogue.