As someone who specializes in Positive Psychology, people might be shocked to know that common phrases such as “think happy thoughts” and “just stay positive” are two of my biggest irritations, especially whenever they are directed towards someone who is dealing with a really heavy, challenging life situation.
Even though my area of psychology is all about focusing on the positive, that doesn’t mean that I subscribe to what can be called “toxic positivity” or “Pollyanna optimism”. In fact, positive psychology could almost be called “realistic positivity” as it’s about helping people to become better by identifying and utilising their own strengths; this, combined with practical interventions and exercises that have been rigorously tested and proven by science, can help people to lead happier and healthier lives.
What Is Positive Psychology?
Positive psychologists don’t believe in masking real emotions with fake positive ones just because it’s considered “more acceptable” by society to “just smile”.
Furthermore, feeling pressured to deny our more difficult emotions is not only inauthentic; it’s also extremely unhealthy to be encouraged to hide, suppress or bottle up our true, natural reactions to experiences and life events; something which men have been victims of for possibly centuries within Western culture.
That’s why I am so passionate about providing practical information and tools for men that can help to support their well-being. Because men deserve to be supported and equipped with effective strategies that have been shown by science to improve mental health; instead of being told patronizing cliches like “just think positive” or being criticized for traditional masculine behaviors.
While of course, viewing situations in a more positive light is definitely helpful for our mental health – men deserve to be educated on the information of how and why this is the case.
Another term for positive thinking used by psychologists is “reframing” or perspective setting. This is a technique that can help us to evaluate a challenging situation from a new perspective which evokes more positive emotions within us, instead of just negative ones.
How we perceive and think about a situation, determines our emotions and also our behavior. And as we are in control of the thoughts that we think, then we have the power to be selective and decide how to perceive a situation.
The Power of Perspective
Being able to choose our perception really is one of the biggest psychological life hacks, and it has been proven to help us remain psychologically resilient in the midst of stressful, challenging life circumstances.
While of course, it will not instantly solve all of our problems, it can definitely help us to think about the issue in a more grounded way, which can help us to manage our emotions around it – and thus, our mental health.
Here is a list of Radical Perspective Setters that can be used by anyone dealing with almost anything to help them “reframe” and adopt a more positive mindset – and as you’ll see, some of them are quite radical ways to think about life.
In 100 Years, No One will Care.
Harsh – I know, but this idea is also incredibly freeing; no matter what challenges you are currently facing in your life, whether it’s a divorce, a failed business, or that you just got fired; guess what? In 100 years time, no one will care.
Furthermore, also practically no one that we know will still be alive – and most likely, neither will we. No one will remember our individual struggles, successes, or failures. Unless we become the President of the United States or the King of England, it’s highly unlikely that the intricate details of our lives will be recorded, documented, and poured over by future generations.
But instead of this being seen as a negative thing, it’s actually quite reassuring to know that the reality is – that even though our own lives are the most important thing to us; they are not to the rest of the world.
“You’re Already All the Way In…”
As Jordan Peterson once very insightfully said that if you’re feeling self-doubt, hesitation, or fear about taking action, making a decision, or going after your dreams, guess what:
“You’re already all the way in with this thing called life… it’s gonna kill ya anyway so you might as well go for broke.”
Again, I know that this has a harsh ring to it, but it’s a raw and undiluted fact of life that everyone dies and as Les Brown says:
“No one gets out of the game of life alive. You either die on the bleachers or out on the field. So, you might as well play out on the field and go for it”.
Radical perspectives like these that remind us of our own finite mortality can have some powerful effects when it comes to distilling our priorities in life and moving us toward action.
Paradoxically, if you truly want to live; having an awareness of death can stimulate gratitude and distill your true desires
Impermanence Theory: Nothing Is Permanent.
This has a similar vibe to the previous point – however, impermanence theory extends to all areas of life and everything within it. Impermanence is one of the main cornerstone beliefs within Buddhism and it posits that nothing is permanent, not day and not night, not the seasons of nature and not even our own lives.
“The only constant in life is change”
Again, this mindset is helpful to us when dealing with difficult times because it reassures us that at least we can be confident in one thing – that nothing lasts forever, and that includes our hardships and struggles. Something will inevitably change.
The nature of life is cyclical. We need only to look to the Universe and nature for a demonstration of this, and surely just as our lives will have dark, challenging times, like winter; we will also experience lighter, more prosperous seasons like Spring and Summer.
And remember the famous quote:
“It’s always darkest before dawn” – Thomas Fuller
Third World Problems
Although our problems can feel like the size of the entire world, the truth is that on the scale of things, if you live within the developed world, it’s most likely not half as serious as what a large proportion of the earth has to face on a daily basis.
The reality is that many people on earth still struggle to access clean water, food, and basic healthcare. Furthermore, there are currently many wars and active conflicts taking place across the world with the war in Ukraine being the most well-publicized and relatable for us as Westerners.
These people are having their entire lives obliterated by bombs and missiles, they are losing family and loved ones, being displaced, and losing livelihoods, homes, and parts of their country. Whenever we consider this real-world experience, it can help to put our own problems into perspective.
However, I am in no way suggesting that our own problems are not significant, after all – everything in life is subjective. And that’s precisely why it can be so helpful to consider other perspectives instead of just our own – it can definitely help us to feel thankful and more relaxed when we realize what others are facing.
You’re Greatest Failure Can Lead to Your Greatest Success
Forgive the cliched tone of this one – but the reality is, it’s true. Throughout time it has been well acknowledged even in ancient Greek philosophy, that it is not when we are at our most relaxed and content in life that we gain the most wisdom; no – it is in our most challenging, darkest hours that we receive the deepest understandings and wisdom about ourselves and the world around us.
Failure is part of life. It’s important to remember that no one has been here before, it’s everyone’s first shot at life. Life doesn’t come with a manual, therefore it’s necessary to try different things. Naturally, some will be successes and others will not
Instead of beating ourselves up and getting stuck in a loop of self-depreciation, by acknowledging this mindset – that failure is indeed part of the process of success – we can start to cultivate more positive emotions about difficult events and move on from them more quickly.
Like Thomas Edison famously said when his attempts at inventing the light bulb failed 10,000 times:
“I have not failed, I just found 10,000 ways that didn’t work”
Failure is the foundation upon which we can build our success.
These radical perspective setters are just that – radical ways of thinking that can have extremely freeing benefits for us, especially when we feel overwhelmed by the perceived grandiosity of our own life circumstances.
Whether we are grappling with grief, a health diagnosis, caring for an ill relative, or financial difficulties – sometimes taking on a radical perspective can help to alleviate some of our own sufferings.
“Remember, The World is a Better Place, with You in it”
If you or someone you know is in crisis, please call 911, go to the nearest emergency room, call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) to reach a 24-hour crisis centre, or text MHA to 741741 at the Crisis Text Line.
UK INFO: The CALM helpline is available 5pm – midnight, 365 days a year on 0800 58 58 58.
- picture-frame: pine watt via Unsplash
- war-landscape: Museums Victoria via Unsplash