Person A: “You got accepted into college? Congratulations! You will have students loans until you die.”
Person B: “You’re buying a house? Congratulations! You’ll never have money again.”
Person C: “You’re having a baby? Congratulations! You no longer matter.”
Have you heard any of these? Have you heard ALL of these? There’s nothing quite like an exciting “Congratulations!” remark followed by a “Now let me tell you how you just ruined your life forever” caveat. It’s right up there with an “I’m sorry, BUT…” comment.
I have thought a lot about these comments and often wondered why people feel the need to say them. Ultimately, it feels as though they don’t know what else to say. “Congratulations” by itself doesn’t feel like enough. Yet, why do we default to negative? A further discussion will almost always reveal that the person you are speaking with has plenty of positive things to say about the topic. Yet, the impulse is negative.
Seasonal Affective Disorder is a real thing. Winter mornings are dark, the days are short, and, the weather isn’t always inviting. Research shows that being outside and interacting with nature is important to our mental health. So, unless winter sports are your thing, feeling trapped inside can be a challenge to your mental health. In these Winter months, it’s more important than ever to preserve our positivity.
When speaking with my students about mindset, I described the difference between a positive mindset and a negative mindset. “Doesn’t being happy all the time seem fake?” one student asked. “Yes,” I replied, “it is fake.” Happy is not the same as positive. You are allowed to have feelings of unhappiness. You can feel negative emotions. However, knowing that you are having a reaction to one specific moment that will pass is what keeps your positive mindset intact.
The hardest decision you will have to make is whether or not you can handle the negativity. Sometimes, you know that the negative comment does not apply to you and it can be easily dismissed. Sometimes, not only can you dismiss the negativity, you can also offer a positive perspective. But, for the times when a relationship brings nothing but negativity, or their stress is transferring onto you and causing you a great deal of stress, you need to walk away.
I’m sure there are other professions where this is true, but I have always said my favorite thing about my career as a teacher is the constant encouragement and support to do and be better; professional development, district training, faculty meetings, grad classes, etc. In a training to support my students, I discovered the science of neuroplasticity.
Are you aware that you can quite literally rewire your brain from this negative mindset to a positive one? Did you know that even trying to think of something positive already starts the release of dopamine? I’m not saying this will be easy. I come from a long line of sarcastic women, sarcasm is my automatic go-to. And, there’s one particular area in my life, which I’ll leave annoyingly vague for now, that is causing me a great deal of stress. Being positive all the time is hard. But, it only takes less than a month before you can already see the benefits of your new behavior.
So why is it so hard? It’s so hard because our prehistoric ancestors defaulted to the negative things that can go wrong out of neccessity; it was a survival skill. Today, it’s also such a large part of our culture in Western society. Take a minute to consider the news. What stories do they share? Negative. Part of the reason is because negative or shocking news elicits a reaction from people that makes them want to watch, therefore equalling ratings for that news station. But also, think about what I just said: negative or shocking news elicits a reaction from people that makes them want to watch. We want to watch the negative.
While I was talking to my students about positivity, I asked them if they ever connected with somebody based on the fact that they shared a common interest. Very quietly, I heard a few people comment “yeah”. Then, I asked my students if they ever made a new connection because they had a mutual hate for something. They erupted in agreeance and began sharing their stories!
So, what can you do to help foster this new mindset and create a long lasting habit?
I mentioned in an earlier blog post my disdain for New Year’s resolutions. But, a resolution to foster a positive mindset is long lasting and has the ability to sustain itself with hard work and determination. Ultimately, you can do anything you set your mind to – it’s setting your mind to it that is difficult. I spent one year trying to become a more generous person. I wrote a memoir chronicling my journey and I found that writing held me accountable. A gratitude journal will have this same effect and depending on how artistic you are, it can be quite cathartic and serve as a form of meditation to write and draw about the positive parts of your day. No matter what you do, do it. You’re not striving for perfection here, your goal is to simply be better than yesterday. (and not to spew canned negative comments based on societal pressure or the inability to generate your own comment while risking somebody else’s positivity!).