A young man looks up at the sky smiling.

Scroll through your chosen social media app and the message is the same: “Just one simple hack can change your life!” and “Transform your career in just 30 days!” (if you buy the course, that is). It seems that everywhere we turn, someone is offering the secret to a new, better you.

But what if you already have the answer? What if you could easily take control and reframe the everyday—no courses required?

New research suggests that the thoughts in your head impact how you experience life. And, most intriguing of all, that you have the power to change them.

Positivity and life satisfaction, explained

Ever wondered why positive people seem to have all the luck? Why those who approach life with a glass-half-full mentality appear to have it easier than the rest of us? 

In the Emmy award-winning sitcom, Schitt’s Creek, we see this dynamic play out on screen. Before retaking his driving test and in a state of mild panic, David Rose accuses his carefree sister of ‘skating’ through life. “I don’t skate through life, David. I walk in really nice shoes,” Alexis retorts. 

The difference between the two central characters is stark. David is the epitome of someone with a negative outlook. He is consumed by anxiety, worried about what others think of him and uncomfortable with himself. His sister Alexis is the opposite. She takes a sunny-side-up approach to life, presumes that those around her love her, and often takes risks on the firm assurance that things will simply work out for her.

While the characters are fictional, they represent two very real ways of experiencing the world. 

“People who tend to skew in the direction of positivity and gratitude often have increased life satisfaction, better health, happiness, and overall resilience,” explains Janet Bayramyan, LCSW, a licensed psychotherapist and owner of the private practice, Road to Wellness. “When you foster positive thoughts, you work on creating the best life that you can for yourself, despite there being life challenges.” 

In other words, individuals with positive outlooks are typically more motivated and driven to pursue their life goals and achievements than someone who harbors a negative mindset and feels defeated before even starting.   

It doesn’t end there. Like attracts like, which means that positive people tend to travel in packs. “People with positive outlooks also tend to attract others with positive outlooks and thus foster deep and strong social connections as a result,” says Bayramyan.

Is being sunny hardwired or learned?

In the case of David and Alexis, it appears that each character is hardwired to have their own outlook. But how does that play out in real life? How much do our personalities dictate whether we are positive or negative people? 

As is so often the case in the nature vs. nurture conundrum, the answer is not crystal clear. Both your personality and experiences shape your perspective.

“Our personality plays a major role in determining our overall mood or vibe. It combines our innate personality and the coping mechanisms we've acquired via life,” says Jessica Plonchak, LCSW, MBA, LCADC, the Executive Clinical Director at ChoicePoint. “Whether you're outgoing, laid-back or a worrier, it's all part of your personality. This encompasses your long-lasting attitudes, routines and thought patterns.”

While your personality may provide your baseline perspective, what happens to you in your life is also likely to impact how you see the world around you. “Remember that your temperament is also shaped by your experiences and how you respond to situations,” adds Plonchak.

This is important because it implies that anyone can adopt a more positive mindset and a leopard can, to some extent, change its spots.

The science behind positive thinking training

In 2023, a controlled trial conducted by the Shiraz University of Medical Sciences looked at the effects of ‘positive thinking training’ on 100 older adults. As the name suggests, 'positive thinking training' is a structured technique for learning to look on the brighter side of life using training sessions, video clips, and written homework to reinforce a positive mindset.

The results of the eight-week group intervention training were better thinking, higher resilience, and greater life satisfaction across all participants.

“The components included in the intervention are well-known positive psychology techniques, so there is no surprise the participants experienced benefits,” explains Licensed Clinical Psychologist and author, Shannon Sauer-Zavala, PhD. 

“For example, mindfully attending to aspects of lives that we’re grateful for has a strong association with positive emotions and higher life satisfaction. Actually expressing one’s gratitude to other people in our lives is even more powerful—likely because engaging in acts of kindness also promotes wellbeing. Forgiveness is robustly associated with life satisfaction, too.”

While the study authors state that there’s a need for similar research into "populations with different social, economic and cultural statuses," these initial results are encouraging. The research suggests that people can benefit from positive thought training, and it doesn’t take long to see results.

“Putting a positive spin during adverse situations can be immensely helpful. When facing setbacks, putting a positive spin on things can create hope, resilience, improved problem solving and a sense of hope,” explains Bayramyan.

“It can also be helpful to put a positive spin during interpersonal conflicts,” she continues. “Adopting a positive mindset during conflict can foster better communication and conflict resolution in relationships. Remaining positive overall can help counteract negative thought patterns, reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety, and promote greater self-esteem.”

While the intervention the researchers used is not available to the general population, there are some straightforward strategies we can all use when it comes to being more positive—more on that below.

Beware of toxic positivity

Before we go any further, we need to share a disclaimer. While positive thinking can have many benefits, it is by no means a ‘catch all’ for all of life’s struggles. Forcing a person to inauthentically display positive emotions or perspectives can be a dangerous game. 

As Plonchak explains, “toxic positivity can be described as the pressure you feel to show positive emotions in response to any situation in life, no matter how dire and difficult the situation is. It means repressing negative thoughts, even if they are in response to extremely sad and traumatic events that would, under normal circumstances, evoke a sense of sadness.”

“It would be bizarre to laugh when you have lost your job or a loved one. Moreover, it can stop you from growing because experiencing sadness and embracing challenges can allow you to look at life with greater insight and meaning,” she continues.

Equally, if you are experiencing high levels of distress, simply ‘thinking positive’ is not the solution. Plonchak explains that there are times when it is important to recognize what you are going through and seek professional help. One such time would be in the case of trauma.

“If you have experienced a major traumatic event in your life recently, it is better to seek help professionally and to talk about your feelings,” she says. “Trauma is a very strong emotion and consumes one’s being completely. Sitting home and dealing positively cannot be enough; allowing your emotions to reach a point where they consume you completely can take you to a very dark place in life, one which is hard to deal with by yourself.”

Expert-backed tips on becoming more positive

While positive thought isn’t the answer to every situation, the evidence suggests that it can go some way to making us more resilient in our everyday lives. With that in mind, it may be worth looking at the ways in which you can train your mindset to skew more toward the positive. 

To help you get started on this journey, here are some expert-backed tips and advice.

Understand your values

First things first, you should get to know your values. Consider what is important to you in every aspect of your life, from your career and education to your family and relationships. Mapping out what matters to you will help you understand where your focus should be.

“Values are what’s important or meaningful to you and they’re different for everyone,” explains Sauer-Zavala. “People tend to be more satisfied and fulfilled in life if they live in accordance with their values.”

Find positivity all around you

Everything that you come into contact with has an impact on you, whether that’s your social media feeds, the people you speak to or the books that you read. If you want to effectively change your mindset, it’s important to create a positive environment for yourself.

“Surround yourself with positive influences, whether it's supportive friends and family, uplifting books or media, or inspirational quotes and affirmations,” advises Bayramyan.

Practice gratitude each day

Chances are, you already have a lot in your life for which you can be grateful. It’s human nature to overlook the thing we have in the never-ended pursuit of gaining more. 

However, if you want to have a better outlook, stop and be grateful for what you have instead. Research suggests that gratitude has a positive impact on your levels of life satisfaction. 

“You can reflect on big or small things,” says Sauer-Zavala. “You can even be grateful that something didn’t go as bad as you thought it would.” Try to make this a habit every day.

Show some self-compassion

Are you being too hard on yourself? If your internal voice is always putting you down, it’s time to change it. You have the power to switch up the narrative and rewrite the story.

“Acknowledge your strengths and accomplishments, and be gentle with yourself when facing setbacks or failures,” says Bayramyan. “Self-compassion involves recognizing your inherent worthiness and embracing your imperfections with understanding and acceptance.”

Engage in acts of kindness

Looking for a shortcut to happiness? Being kind to others is one of the quickest ways to increase your life satisfaction. “Performing acts of kindness for others can also boost mood and foster a sense of connection and fulfillment,” says Bayramyan.

Learn to forgive others

Never underestimate the power of forgiveness. When you feel that you have been wronged by another person, that can become all-consuming. However, as hard as it might be to do so in the moment, it’s far better for your mental health to move on.

“Holding a grudge or ill feelings hurts you more than it hurts others. Remember that forgiveness does not mean you condone someone’s actions and it doesn’t mean you have to have a relationship with them,” says Sauer-Zavala. “It is just giving yourself permission to let it go so you don’t have to carry it around with you.”

Final words

Fostering more positive thoughts is not easy for everyone. You might find that both your genetics and life experiences are working against you. However, that doesn’t mean you should give up. 

By making small changes to your everyday activities and how you think, you could work toward becoming more positive. Use the expert-backed advice we have shared to get started—and see how quickly this new positive mindset becomes a natural part of your day.  

Charlotte Grainger
Charlotte Grainger is a freelance writer, having previously been published in Cosmopolitan, Men’s Health, Brides Magazine and the Metro. Her articles vary from relationship and lifestyle topics to personal finance and careers. She is an unquestionable ENFJ, an avid reader, a fully-fledged coffee addict and a cat lover. Charlotte has a BA in Journalism and an MA in Creative Writing from the University of Sheffield.