Reasons to be cheerful (why positivity pays)

It’s not always easy staying positive – especially on a cold, rainy morning when everything seems to be going wrong. But learning to see the bright side of situations and staying upbeat can really pay off.

Do you struggle to be cheerful some days? If so you’re in good company! But, as Chris Carey explains, learning how to be more upbeat isn’t just a better frame of mind to be in, it can actually have a positive impact on your relationships and work. 

It’s easy to be negative

How many days have you woken up, turned on your phone to scan the news or Facebook feed, only to be confronted by bad news? A bomb has gone off somewhere, another national company has folded with massive job losses, and your friend’s ex is making life difficult for her yet again. It’s hardly a motivational start to a productive and cheery day, is it?

Then you head out for the school run and the traffic is worse than it’s ever been. You have to park miles from school, and just as you squeeze into the tiniest space your child remembers that they’ve left their lunchbox at home. Will they never learn to think for themselves? And then it starts raining – and not just raining, it starts bucketing down just as you need to get out of the car.

Sound familiar? I’m sure this sequence of events (or one very similar) has happened to pretty much all of us at one time or another. And our response is often quite familiar too – we demonstrate our innate ability to catastrophise.

Was this really the worst traffic ever? Were you really miles from school? Was the space the tiniest you have ever seen, really? Do you really believe your five year old will never learn? And did it really only start raining just as you got out of the car?

This language (the language we all tend to use) encourages us to see the worst in things – and leaves us with a mood blacker than the rainy skies you were grumbling about.

And what do you do with that black mood? You spread it around. You take it to the school gates as you drop off your now-miserable child, and you carry it into your office, quickly infecting your colleagues with the same negative mindset.

You see, like it or not, negativity is contagious, and drags others down with you. (And then their own newly-bad mood affects you right back again.)

You can choose to be cheerful

But there is a way forward. Every day, we make choices about our behaviour. Perhaps uniquely on this planet, we can choose whether to listen to that little voice in our head, which is usually our fiercest critic and has an uncanny ability to drag up evidence of negative experiences from our past.

Or we can thank our inner voice for sharing and then tell it to shut up, because it is not helping us at all. Then we can choose to act in a different, happier way. As John Milton put it in Paradise Lost: “The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell and a hell of heaven.”

That’s not to say I’m suggesting you adopt a rose-tinted view of the world. Sometimes crap is crap. But I am arguing for a balanced view of the world, based on real evidence.

If we want, we can harness our almost forensic ability to find fault in things, to find the flaws in our own self-fulfilling prophecies of doom, and talk to ourselves in a way we’d never talk to someone else (and expect them to be happy and thrive).

But is this helping us? And do we really want to live this way? We do have another choice, and I know because it’s one I consciously make too.

Like 95% of the world’s population, I’m not naturally gifted as a ‘positive’ person – just ask my wife! But people see me as an upbeat person who is full of energy. That’s not a natural aptitude – I have to work at it. You see I believe you can train your mind to notice the potential positives in a specific situation (while acknowledging the challenges) and then take a more balanced view.

What’s the point of being positive?

So how have I come to this conclusion (after all I’m not trained in psychiatry or the related fields)? Many years ago I spoke at a conference in Sweden, and a few weeks later I was contacted by the PA to one of the delegates asking me to speak at an oncology conference.

Well, I’m not an oncologist either, I’m a professional and passionate communicator, so I asked what topic he wanted me to speak on. After much to-ing and fro-ing through his PA, we agreed that he didn’t know either. But he did know that he wanted an ‘injection’ of my positivity at his conference.

This conversation created a desire to better understand how people (including me) can learn to see the potential positives in any situation. And then take a more balanced, potentially more empowering and inspirational view.

And the great news is that this positivity is just as contagious as negativity – as was clearly the case in Sweden. My research has seen me inspired by the work of Martin Seligman and others involved in the Positive Psychology movement. I’ve found Seligman’s seminal book Authentic Happiness very helpful – and not a tree being hugged in sight!

In the past year or two, there’s been more and more interest in the benefits of positive psychology in the workplace. Daniel Hunter recently summarised some of the highlights of psychologist Sarah Lewis’s book Positive Psychology at Work in a recent blog post on the Fresh Business Thinking website.

So what is the point of taking a positive view? Well, as we explain in our workshop on this topic that we run for managers in large corporations, ‘positive’ people seem to be more attractive to be around, they seem to have more choices in life, they seem to have more control, and perhaps most tellingly of all they seem to be more successful.

And if that doesn’t put a smile on your face (and clear the dark clouds from your mind) what will?

Chris Carey is MD of Axiom Communications, a specialist internal communication agency.