For the past few years I’ve been focusing on being a positive person. I’m sure no one is surprised that this is not easy in our society. There is plenty of bad news and negativity all around us. To add to that burden, the work that I do is centered on handling complaints and negative circumstances. People usually call me when either something has gone wrong, or they anticipate that what they are about to do is gonna cause a problem. I get a chance to tell people “no” pretty often during my work day. Even when I’m saying “I can help you with that”, my help usually means I’m gonna talk to someone else who isn’t gonna like what we’re doing and I’ll smooth things over. But I’ve been determined to exhibit joy, or at least patience, through all of the negative circumstances at work, mean-spirited communication in our society, and unhappiness all around. Most importantly, through these efforts I have learned something surprising – things go better when I maintain a positive attitude. I don’t mean that I feel better despite being in this cesspool of dissension, division, and malevolence. I mean that things I’m involved in have more positive outcomes when I maintain a positive attitude. I’m discovering that there are 2 reasons for this phenomenon and I want to share them with you.
The first reason has to do with why I began this initiative. One of my favorite Scriptures is Psalms 1, which begins, “Blessed (Happy) is the man that does not walk in the counsel of the ungodly, or stand in the place of sinners, or sit in the seat of the scornful.” As I thought about how well I follow this formula, I realized that it is the last part that I trip over most often. For the first 40+ years of my life, I routinely responded to things in a negative fashion. I was really good at spotting other people’s faults. When I was involved in things at work or church or even at home, I usually concentrated on the things that were wrong (or as I used to say – the things that need to be improved). I saw injustice wherever I looked. I was scornful. Even when I saw things that were good, I had a habit of mentally diminishing their importance (e.g. “That ain’t nothing but an ultra-perm!). So as I studied Psalms 1 I was convicted. From that point on I began to try to be less negative and more positive. The key to my motivation came from the rest of Psalms 1. I encourage you to read it yourself, but after more instruction for becoming this blessed man, the Scripture says, “and whatever he does prospers”. Psalms 1 contains a clear promise from God that a person who follows God, avoids evil, consumes God’s word and avoids having a negative attitude will prosper in whatever he does. That’s a powerful reason to maintain a positive attitude. There are also other Scriptures that tell us to keep our minds on things that are positive, such as Philippians 4:8.
The second reason I want to share this is to point you to a book I began reading recently. I first got exposed to Shawn Achor as part of a leadership development program at work. Mr. Achor has a TED Talk video in which he discusses positive psychology and what he calls, The Happiness Advantage. Achor has conducted and compiled extensive studies to support the theory that happiness fuels success. In his book, entitled The Happiness Advantage, he says, “Conventional wisdom holds that if we work hard, we will be more successful, and if we are more successful, then we’ll be happy. If we can just find that great job, win that next promotion, lose those five pounds, happiness will follow. But recent discoveries in the field of positive psychology have shown that this formula is actually backward: Happiness fuels success, not the other way around.” In his lecture and in the book, he shows that when we are in a positive frame of mind, we are more productive, more creative, even smarter. And those who exhibit a more positive disposition achieve better results in almost any endeavor. The author takes the song “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” and turns it around. Be assured, that Achor isn’t a proponent of oblivious optimism – ignoring the reality around us. But he (and I) believe that in the midst of dealing with negative things, you can resist the tendency to become consumed by the circumstances. He also drives home the point that you can control your attitude and be happy by employing certain practical actions like, meditating on things that are good, committing deliberate random acts of kindness and finding things to look forward to. And when you maintain a positive attitude, it positively affects the circumstances by making you more effective. So check out Psalms 1, and “The Happiness Advantage” by Shawn Achor.