4 Ways to Cultivate Positivity During Difficult Times

Focusing on the positive during difficult times can seem impossible when everything in the world seems to be working against you, especially as of late. The last couple of months have been a sea of mixed emotions, and the most recent environmental outbreak in Western America hasn’t made the pandemic any easier to deal with. How can you possibly stay positive when there is so much suffering in the world right now? To many, it may seem selfish and inappropriate to allow yourself to feel happiness amid such worldwide suffering- we may even feel guilty for feeling good. How can I possibly feel happy when people are having to evacuate from their homes, care for sick loved ones or are sick themselves?

However, it is in times of extreme suffering and stress that we need to hone in on the positive things that we always have at our disposal, despite what external factors might be working against us. According to famed relational therapist, Esther Perel, “feelings of play, imagination, curiosity, exploration, and pleasure are survival tools that help us counter despair.”

This isn’t to say that we should avoid and shut out feelings of sadness and all of the other emotions we may experience in a given day. Instead, we can acknowledge these more difficult emotions and greet them with gentleness and compassion- allowing the two worlds to co-exist and balance each other out.

Thus, cultivating positivity amid suffering shouldn’t be thought of as a selfish thing. In fact, accessing moments of good can not only keep us afloat, it can also help those we care for and interact with throughout the day. When we allow ourselves to nurture the positive aspects of our lives, we set ourselves up to uplift others… and everyone needs uplifting these days!

Here are four mindful ways you can cultivate positivity during difficult times:

1. Smile

We know that when we are happy, our natural response is to smile. But if you flip that around, is the reverse true? When we smile, is our natural response then to be happy? According to Sian Beilock, president of Barnard College and a cognitive scientist, the answer is yes. “Your face does a lot more than simply express your emotions; it affects how you register those emotions inside your head and remember them. Frowning and smiling actually create different emotions and attitudes; they’re not just the physical result of a mood.”

Next time you’re feeling overwhelmed, try taking a few deep breaths and invite a gentle smile to form on the exhale and notice how you feel after. Do you feel a little lighter? Did your mood brighten a bit? Do you feel a sense of warmth overcome you? Just by integrating a few moments to simply smile, you can lift your mood and reduce stress.

2. Incorporate humor and laughter into your day

Similar to smiling, numerous studies have confirmed short-term and long-term benefits of laughter on the human body and mind. Everything from stimulating your organs to lowering your stress levels, improving your blood circulation, strengthening your immune system, and even relieving physical pain – laughter is the best medicine. Watch a funny show, be silly with your family and allow yourself to let go a bit.

3. Tune into your Senses

You can also cultivate positivity, peace and relaxation by mindfully tuning into your senses throughout the day. By taking advantage of the sensations that are available to you in every moment, you draw your mind away from dwelling on the past and worrying about the future and connect to your body in the present. To tune into this present moment awareness, take the time to pet your dog and feel the soothing emotions that arise in doing so. Savor the warmth and smell of your morning tea or coffee. Listen to the birds in the morning. Feel the cool breeze on your skin or take advantage of the warmth the sun provides. Despite the many difficult things that are happening, you can always rely on these simple gifts to bring positivity into your day.

4. Jam out to some Music

The notion that music can influence your thoughts, emotions, and behaviors probably doesn’t come as much of surprise. If you’ve ever blasted your favorite pop anthem to get pumped up or been moved to tears by an intimate live performance, then you can easily understand the power of music to impact moods and inspire. In fact, numerous studies have shown that music can relax the mind, energize the body, help people better manage pain and even make you happier. Two US psychologists, Ferguson and Sheldon, in a 2012 study found that students who listened to just 12 minutes of “happy” music while trying to feel happier experienced higher elevations in mood.

To cultivate positivity through music, make your own “Feel Good Jams” playlist and dance around a bit in your living room. Pick songs that make you feel good. Pick songs that evoke positive memories for you. Pick songs that you like to dance to. Allow yourself to listen and play and feel happy, soaking up the emotions, images and sensations that arise… and by all means sing along!

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