What if you’re the grouch I was talking about in last week’s column? What can you do to improve your disposition?
No one likes to be negative. Yet some adults struggle to see their cup as half full. To them it just seems half empty, no matter how hard they try to see it differently. The blue sky, speckled with clouds floating by, just looks like a dreary overcast day. They struggle to see the blue, but they just don’t. All they see are the clouds.
Some of this may be your temperament and some may be learned. My mother has always been an optimist and has always looked at the bright side of life. My father was a firm believer in “Murphy’s Law” — anything that can go wrong, will. He was always expecting disaster. I seemed to have inherited my mother’s disposition. By all accounts, I was a happy, sunny baby with a positive outlook. And, despite several challenging life experiences (parental divorce and the death of a sibling) I continue to see my cup as full.
Many individuals who suffered trauma as children, experiencing abuse or neglect, may lose trust in others. They were unprotected as children and they vow to protect themselves as grown-ups. They keep their emotional distance from adults and prepare for the next betrayal. It can be very hard for them to open their hearts to others, despite their deep desire to have a warm, loving, safe relationship with someone.
Depression, of course, can also cause individuals to feel that a dark cloud follows them through their day. It can result in irritability, pessimism, and negativity. It’s very hard for depressed individuals to enjoy the simple pleasures of life.
Excessive alcohol consumption, commonly known as binge drinking, can put individuals at risk of short and long-term health problems including car accidents, falls and chronic diseases such as high blood pressure, stroke and heart disease
But some negativity can be learned too. Growing up in an environment where parents are critical, harsh and negative can foster the same in a child. Unfortunately, negative, unhappy individuals tend to spread their discontent around, often with bad results. Children are like sponges — they soak up whatever is around them. Therefore, it’s so important for negative adults who are parents to cultivate a positive attitude.
Here are some ways to nurture a positive outlook:
Develop awareness of yourself. What are you feeling? What is your attitude? Are you aware of how you are acting and reacting to the world around you? How do other people see you? How are you perceived by others? Why are you feeling negative? What seems to be contributing to this outlook?
By developing awareness of yourself, you can make choices. When you are unaware, you are like a bull in a china shop—knocking over cups and saucers without realizing it. Your friends and family pick up the pieces.
If you or others think you may be depressed, schedule a visit with your doctor. While some adults are very aware that they are feeling depressed, others aren’t really conscious that they have this condition. They feel unhappy, angry, or negative and they have simply become used to feeling that way. Your doctor can diagnose your condition and recommend effective help.
Every day make a list of what you are grateful for. Despite all of life’s challenges that come our way, there are always things that we are thankful for. When you make a list of these items, you will naturally start to feel better.
Focus on the positive. When you are aware that you are focusing on the negative, ask yourself if it is necessary to do so. Then ask yourself if you would like to focus on the positive. It is actually a choice!
Live in the present. Many adults live in the past, recalling and dwelling on all the negative experiences they’ve endured. This kind of thinking will lead to an unhappy outlook. Likewise, focusing on the future can cause anxiety. Many individuals think that by anticipating negative possibilities they will be better prepared. But, more likely, they will just feel worried. Focus on living today.
Paul Schoenfeld is a clinical psychologist at The Everett Clinic. His Family Talk blog can be found at www. everettclinic.com/ healthwellness-library.html.