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Mental Health

How to Live a More Positive Life

I’m not sure what it is- maybe it’s being shut in my apartment all day long, the inability to socialize and meet new people, or maybe just the lingering anxiety of what’s happening in our world today, but I’m becoming… negative. It feels like there is this constant background noise of pessimism and impatience buzzing around in my mind all the time. I’m not as understanding, open minded, and joyful as I was even just last month. 

I was starting to feel guilty over this. How could I, someone who’s been very fortunate during this pandemic, be so negative when many people who are impoverished, ill, or disadvantaged in some way are able to cultivate positivity? Just as I was hastily googling “therapists near me”, I was distracted by the most beautiful sunset. I got up from my desk and ran over to inform my boyfriend of the amazing sight just outside our window and we quickly took pictures of it just before it slipped below the trees.

The sun slowly descended down the bright pink sky and before we knew it, the day was over. As I was checking back to reality, I was reminded of some valuable lessons I learned in my Positive Psychology class. If you want to become a more positive person, the gist is this: gratitude, gratitude gratitude. That’s the answer! I like to think the sun made it’s beautiful exit into the night just for me, to remind me that there’s beauty everywhere, I just have to be open to it. If you’re up for it, I’ll share some of the most effective ways to lift your spirits and have a better outlook on life. The best part, you can start right now! 


To-do, list, paper, pen, journal
Photo by Glenn Carstens-Peters from Unsplash

Write a list of things you’re grateful for each morning/night 

I know this is a very common piece of advice, but its popular for a reason! When you show appreciation for things in your life, big or small, it gives you a sense of joy and inspiration. Regularly expressing gratitude via journaling can do some amazing things for your health too like improve your sleep, reduce stress, and improve your self esteem. Writing a gratitude list can be as simple as one word or as complex as many paragraphs. You don’t have to put pressure on yourself to think of anything meaningful, sometimes acknowledging the most simple things (like internet connection or microwave popcorn or dishwashers) are the most effective when it comes to appreciating life holistically. I’ll list a few things I’m grateful for now:

The clearance section at Kohl’s 

  • A desk chair with wheels 

  • The weather- it was sunny and warm out today! 

  • The cookie dough in my fridge 

  • My education (even though we’re remote now) 

  • My boyfriend’s cooking skills 

  • Gel pens 

  • Zoom calls with my friend back home 

  • Friendly cashiers at the grocery store 

  • Pictures of my dog and cat sent from my dad

Express gratitude to the individuals you are grateful for 

Jotting down things you’re grateful for will definitely get you in a better headspace, but let’s take it a step further. I think it’s so important to stop and let our loved ones know we’re grateful for them. You never know the next opportunity you’ll have to tell someone you appreciate them, you might even wish you told them sooner. But there’s no time like the present, if you have the opportunity to tell someone you are grateful for them- do it! Here are some ideas of getting your message across: 

  • Write them a letter of why you appreciate them and mail it to them (if you live with them, slip it under their bedroom door, place it on their pillow or tape it to their mirror)

  • Send an ecard!

  • Take them on a walk and tell them you were thinking of something wonderful they did for you once and how much you appreciated it


woman receiving wrapped hanukkah present
Photo by Rodnae Productions from Pexels

Spread kindness

Random acts of kindness are the most beautiful and wonderful thing us human beings can do for one another. Not only that, but there are some incredible scientifically proven benefits of acts of kindness on your overall health. Kindness increases the production of oxytocin (the love hormone that lowers blood pressure, improves heart health, and increases optimism) and serotonin (a neurotransmitter that produces happiness and sense of calm). In addition to this, it’s known in the scientific community that spreading kindness can also serve as an energizer, boost your happiness, give you a “helper’s high”, and even lengthen your lifespan. 

Showing kindness has such a remarkable effect on not only your body but your community as well. The best part about random acts of kindness is that they are contagious! One good deed can spark another and another and another. For example, one of my professors told me a story once of how he worked a drive through and one customer told him to pay for the meal of the car behind them. When telling the next customer that their meal had been paid for, they offered to pay for the meal for the person behind them and it went down the line, one act of kindness after the other. It only took one person to start a domino effect and improve dozens of people’s days. If you’re looking for ways to spread kindness in your community during a pandemic, here are some ideas:

  • Leave a thank you note on your mailbox for delivery workers 

  • If you’re able to, buy coffee for the person behind you in line 

  • Make a care package and send it to a health worker in your community 

  • Next time you encounter an especially kind cashier at the grocery store, take an extra few minutes and tell their manager

  • Donate to organizations you’re passionate about, then post their info on social media to spread the word

  • Send homemade cards to a long-term care facility


Woman sitting alone on beach
Photo by Cody Black from Unsplash

Find a sense of meaning 

Scientists found that constantly searching for happiness can often lead us to be unhappier. What we should be searching for instead is a sense of meaning. Cultivating a more meaningful life dissolves feelings of meaninglessness and despair, and replaces them with a sense of purpose and optimism. When people find meaning in their lives they are much more optimistic- they tend to take better care of themselves and even live longer. So how do you do this? Well according to the author of The Power of Meaning, Emily Efsahani Smith, living a meaningful life can be divided into four pillars: belonging, purpose, transcendence, and storytelling. 

Belonging- a sense of connectedness to a small group of people who value you for who you are, not just for what you believe in. Achieving a sense of belonging can be accomplished within your family, close friends, or any other group in your community that values you. 

Purpose- having responsibility, a reason to get up in the morning and most importantly, knowing what you bring to the table. This does not have to be achieved in your career. Your purpose could be being a parent, giving back to your community, taking care of the earth- it can be anything, as long as it’s something you’re passionate about and it is a way you are serving someone or something else. 

Transcendence- often described as a flow state where you become so enthralled in something you lose track of time, and you sometimes feel connected to a higher power. People can find transcendence when painting, hiking, listening to music, or being in nature. 

Storytelling- the story or narrative we tell ourselves. Oftentimes we have a limiting story we tell ourselves to inhibit our growth or make excuses for ourselves. For example, I could say that my life would be so much better if I were less shy. This story limits me and gives me false beliefs of myself, but if I change my story I could live a very different life. Instead, I could say that being reserved allows me to appreciate silence, turn inward and reflect on who I am and what I like about myself. 

Finding meaning, the last piece in the positivity puzzle, is the most important. But if you’re able to apply all of these concepts to your life, even in small ways, you are on your way to a more positive and fulfilling life. 

Juliana Elg

West Chester '21

Hi, I'm Juliana Elg! I'm a junior Psychology student with a minor in Global Studies and I'm passionate about writing, telling stories, and helping others. When I'm not studying you can find me going on nature walks and painting.
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