Feeling Down? Try Positivity With a Capital “P”

7 ½ Tips from a Recovering Challenge Addict

If happiness lives in life’s little moments, Positivity with a capital “P” is about small acts of kindness practiced every day.

My name is Challenge Magnet and I used to be a challenge addict. It’s not that I always dared myself; just as often, the challenges found me and I opened the door. Like the time when I gave birth to the third baby, started a new VP job for a global company, and moved to London with my husband and kids, including the newborn — all within three months.

I shouldn’t have been surprised when this triad of challenges showed up in my way: reorganization with massive job cuts; new position, which I wasn’t sure how to do; and Stage IV cancer with abysmal survival statistics. It was consistent with my trajectory. Except that this time, it wasn’t about daring myself. It was about life and death.

As a challenge addict, I thought I would be able to see past “no, you won’t make it” prognosis. Well, not exactly. My stubbornness and (often unwarranted) pertinacity proved to be useful, but this was a completely uncharted territory. Beyond doctors, medicines, and a huge dose of luck, what ultimately helped me survive was Positivity with a capital “P.” Here are the ingredients. Hint: the last one is most important.

1. DARE TO BE IMPERFECT. Give yourself permission not to do it all. I know: the competitive job market, the demanding boss, your kids and elderly parents are pulling at you from all directions. You don’t want to let any of them down, right? So you let yourself down.

Don’t. Some days are crazy and the best you can do is to lean into them. Forgive yourself. You’ll get another opportunity tomorrow, next week, or next month.

Some days are crazy and the best you can do is to lean into them.

2.SCHEDULE A PITY PARTY. What? A pity party for Positivity? Yes, and here is why. Some experts say it’s effective to “fake it till you make it.” It may be a good strategy for a while, but eventually all that stuff you’ve been ignoring will start oozing out of your pores. You might snap at your coworkers or at your kids, develop mysterious headaches, wake up at 4 a.m. and twiddle your thumbs until the alarm rings.

If any of this sounds familiar, it’s time for a pity party! Set a firm start time and end time, e.g., Saturday from 7–8 p.m. Invite yourself and anyone else who can help you. Let it all out: cry if you need to, scream if you need to, feel the anger, disappointment, frustration. Place your ugliest thoughts in a pity jar. Then leave the party at the designated time and don’t look back. When needed, repeat.

3. LIMIT NEGATIVE PEOPLE. I don’t mean forget your friends who are going through a rough patch. Rather, limit the chamois types who drain every last ounce of your positive energy. If you can’t avoid them entirely — as in, they happen to be your boss or your older sister — set emotional boundaries. Build a sanity fence. If you can’t control how much time you have to be around them, make micro-escapes (get a cup of coffee, walk around the block, close your office door). They can’t bring you down if you don’t let them.

Watch out for chamois-type people. They will drain every last ounce of your positive energy.

4. CREATE A BRAG TROVE. Whenever you get a note of recognition, thank you, anything that makes you feel good, save it. Write your own adulatory speech. Pin it on your bulletin board. When you’re having a bad day (or week or month), it’s easy to forget that it hasn’t always been like that. You may start believing there is something wrong with you. Or worse yet, that you deserve it. Not true. It’s just your mind playing ugly tricks. Look at your brag trove. Read it out loud. Read it like you mean it. You’ll feel your mood shift in no time.

5. SING. It’s very hard to be down while singing Beethoven’s Ode to Joy. The energy that’s needed to hit these high As doesn’t leave much room for negative thinking. For me, singing with the Wayne Oratorio Society has always been therapeutic — if I could breathe, then I could sing.

Can’t sing? Listen to your favorite tunes. Bake a cake. Read a book. See a movie. Rescue a cat. Work out. Whatever it is, let your passion heal you.

Wayne Oratorio Society choir. Photo by DS Photography

6.(to 7 1/2) DO SOMETHING FOR SOMEONE ELSE. Most of us have days when a mere thought of facing the next hour is too much to handle, let alone consider others. In my five-year battle with the stubborn illness, I discovered that no matter how bad I felt, focusing on someone else — a friend, colleague or a complete stranger — always made me feel better. I’m not talking about heroics here: it may have been a phone call, a card, an inspiring quote, their favorite tune, a link to an article they would enjoy.

This kind of giving is mostly about listening. It’s about putting ourselves in other people’s shoes, even if we are barefoot ourselves.

True giving is about putting ourselves in other people’s shoes, even if we are barefoot ourselves.

There is plenty of research that confirms how the spirit of giving boosts our own wellbeing. For me, doing deeds for others was life-affirming, humbling, and above all, healing. That’s why I gave it the highest value.

Why the ½ point? It’s a reminder that we should never be finished doing things for others. If happiness lives in life’s little moments, Positivity with a capital “P” is about small acts of kindness practiced every day. There are some great examples of people who embody this spirit,” like Lisa Bendall or Wendy Harpham, M.D.

As for me, I’m Positively grateful for being here.

Am I perennially happy? Of course not, but I dose myself liberally with steps 1–7½, and more often than not, a smile emerges.

Ella Remmings is a freelance writer based in Philadelphia. You can read about her 50 Meaningful Deeds project here.

Have your own Positivity project to share? Ella would love to hear about it!