We’ve all heard of the power of positive thinking and mind over matter, right?
Let me start out by saying that I’m not against positivity in any way whatsoever.
It’s just that I think there’s some deep confusion over what positivity really means. In this sense, it means optimism and thoughts that make us feel good and even happy.
But positivity is just a part of our experience – it’s not a real, physical force that can be measured or put into a beam and fired at your detractors.
So if you want to be happy, is there more you can do than just trying to think positive thoughts?
You’d better believe it.
Happiness is tied very deeply to our actions, our self-image, and our relationships.
So if you want to cultivate happiness in your life, you need to practice behaviors that encourage it.
Need some ideas?
Here are eight habits that will make you happier than constant positive thinking alone ever could.
1) Focus on your relationships
You might be the type of person who’s very comfortable spending time alone. I know I really love my solitude sometimes.
But that doesn’t mean that you don’t also need great relationships in your life.
We humans are social animals, and we thrive in positive social situations.
We also languish in situations of isolation.
Harvard University started a study on happiness over 80 years ago, which is still running today. In this study, they followed a group of students through their lifetimes and onto the lifetimes of their partners and children.
Guess what the biggest predictor of happiness in that study was. Money? Career success?
No, and no.
The number one factor that made people happy was having deep connections and quality relationships. These could be with romantic partners, friends, or family, but their importance could not be underscored more.
So if you want to improve your happiness, cultivate your relationships.
Make more time for each person you care about, and make that quality time that you can both really appreciate.
2) Practice gratitude
I’ll admit that practicing gratitude is a form of positive thinking, but it’s a very specific one that has a great effect on quality of life.
What does it mean to “practice gratitude” anyway? Isn’t gratitude something you either feel or you don’t?
When someone helps you out of a jam, you might automatically feel grateful; it’s true.
However, in your day-to-day life, these situations might not occur so frequently so you might not experience a lot of feelings of gratitude regularly.
But you can change that.
Practicing gratitude means making yourself conscious of focusing on this feeling. It’s an active way to feel this way instead of a passive one.
Each day, for example, you can put time aside to sit and think or even write down what you are thankful for. You can focus on all the things you have and the great people in your life.
Psychological research has shown that this practice can have positive impacts on your health and your relationships, which sounds pretty positive to me!
3) Eating healthy
You are what you eat, so if you eat healthy food, is that what you’ll become?
No, but you might become a healthy person instead.
The great-grandfather of modern medicine, Hippocrates, said, “Let thy food by thy medicine and medicine be thy food.”
What he meant was that eating healthy food can help keep you healthy. And who’s happy when they’re unhealthy?
What does eating healthy mean? There are so many conflicting diets and advice out there that this area can be a real minefield.
But there’s still some consensus. Eat fresh food and lots of vegetables for their vitamins and minerals. Avoid heavily processed foods and reduce your sugar intake.
This will help your body feel better, and your mind will follow.
4) Get enough sleep
Sleep is your body’s time to repair itself, but it’s also the time when your brain sorts itself out, cleans out pollution, and realigns many physical and mental processes.
So it’s no wonder that sleep is an important part of a happy life.
There are some people out there who seem to be able to get by on very little sleep. But for the rest of us, seven to nine hours per night is ideal.
As well as improving your health and mental processes, sleep can also affect your mood.
When you get enough sleep, you already know you feel better than when you don’t.
There’s proof that repeatedly not getting enough sleep can influence your mood and is correlated to higher rates of depression.
5) Perform reflections
If something goes really wrong in your life, is going back and thinking about it a good idea?
The answer lies in how you do it.
If you go back and ruminate and obsess about the incident, this can cause you to really feel awful about it and be damaging.
But if you re-frame the experience as a learning opportunity, it can be positive to think about it again.
Reflecting on your day, your week, or your life can be a very helpful way to boost your happiness.
It can help you focus on your successes and learn from your mistakes. It gives you personal time to get in touch with your emotions and can help you regulate them better.
Most people either meditate on their reflections or use a journal to write them down. Either way, this habit can help improve your happiness more than constant positive thinking does on its own.
6) Challenge your negative thoughts
We all have negative thoughts at times.
These can be thoughts about ourselves or about external factors, and they’re perfectly natural to have.
People who push positive thinking often believe that you can either banish these thoughts by chasing them away with positivity or ignore them because they don’t serve you.
But if you’re anything like me, these are only short-term solutions, and the negativity will always come back.
Or that’s what I always thought until I started learning to challenge my negative thoughts.
This practice doesn’t ignore them or try to distort them. Instead, it focuses on analysis and deconstruction.
You ask questions to find out the roots of why you’re thinking that thought.
For example, after I lost my job writing for a magazine (yep, I’m that old) I kept thinking, “I’m not good enough.”
I tried to ignore this idea or push it aside, but it kept creeping back into my head.
Until I challenged it.
I asked myself if this was actually true. I looked deeper into why I lost my job.
The company was scaling back operations because paper magazines couldn’t compete with the Internet. But why me? I was relatively new to the job and young. I didn’t have seniority.
Eventually, I came to realize it wasn’t about my skills or performance, and I was able to drive that negative thought away for good.
7) Organize your time
One of the best things you can do for your happiness is get yourself more time.
If anyone ever tells you that time is money, they’re wrong. Time is a limited resource worth way more than money that can be printed and produced out of nothing.
Even exchanging money for time makes people happier, like when you order food in instead of cooking or pay for a taxi instead of walking (unless you love cooking and free exercise!).
Is there any way you can get more time for free?
I’m not going to advocate quitting your job and living off the land, though admittedly, that might be a huge source of happiness for some people.
All things being equal, the best way to get more time is to be better organized.
Yes, that’s all!
You can cultivate habits like avoiding procrastination or planning out your day each morning, so you use your time more efficiently.
This will lead to less stress and more time to do the things you love, like being happy.
8) Do nice things for others
Don’t you feel wonderful when other people do nice things for you?
Guess what – the feeling is mutual!
I mean that the empathy you feel for others makes you understand and relate to their feelings. That’s why it can feel as good to do something for someone else as it does receiving such an action.
So why not make it a habit to go out of your way to do something nice, caring, and helpful for someone else every day?
This will make lots of people much happier than just thinking positively ever could.
If you focus on these eight habits that will make you happier than constant positive thinking, you’re going to notice a great change in your life.
Little by little, you’ll be able to increase your own happiness and also impact the people around you for the better.
Now, that’s what I call positivity!