Positive Attitude: Definition, Examples, & Strategies
Sometimes it feels easier to be a Grumpy Gus. But ask yourself, wouldn't you rather have a positive attitude about life? If so, here's how to do it.
*This page may include affiliate links; that means I earn from qualifying purchases of products.
What Is a Positive Attitude?
Technically, an attitude is something that others observe in you. So whether or not you have a positive attitude depends on how you interact with the world, and how they see you. But what they see in you is often a reflection of who you are. Are you able to see the bright side of challenging situations? Are you kind to people even when they may not deserve it? Do you smile and laugh and generally enjoy life? Well, my friend, then you likely have a positive attitude.
Why Is It Important to Develop a Positive Attitude?
Many of us might prefer to just be a Grumpy Gus — What's the point in getting all jazzed up about everything all the time, right? Sometimes it feels easier to just be negative. But ask yourself this: Do you like being around people who are negative and complaining all the time? I certainly don't.
This is why building a positive attitude is so important. We're not only happier with our lives, people are more likely to want to be around us, which makes even happier yet. And other often want to help us and make our lives easier. It's an upward spiral of positivity.
Here's a cute example of how a positive attitude can be contagious:
How Do You Develop a Positive Attitude?
To build a positive attitude, you have start changing your perspective on life. Stop looking for all the negatives and start appreciating the positives a bit more. Try practicing gratitude, finding the benefits, thinking positive a bit more, and with practice, it'll get easier.
But that's easier said than done, right? Here's some more detailed strategies for shifting your brain in ways that help you have a more positive attitude.
Here's a video on how to develop a positive attitude:
1. Train Your Brain to Develop a More Positive Attitude
I know, I know. If you currently have a negative attitude, you're probably already doubting and finding flaws with my suggestions for how to build a positive attitude. Believe me — I get it.
Rather than trying to just flip some magic switch and change everything about who you are, it's better to start small. We do that by activating regions of your brain that — let's face it — could use a bit of a workout: The positive regions of your brain.
It's just like if you haven't gone to the gym in years. Jumping right back in is going to hurt. So instead of hurting your "positivity muscles", let's just start with a light stretch of those muscles.
One way to get the positive part of your brain humming again is by memorizing, and recalling, lists of positive words. That's right. When you force your brain to use positive words frequently, you make these words more accessible in your daily life and you activate other related connections in your brain. So later, when you're trying to have a positive attitude, positive thoughts, memories, and emotions may come to more more easily.
Not sure which words are positive? Psychologists have painstakingly measured thousands of words to determine how positive and negative they are. To make this research useful for our purposes, we've selected only the most positive of the positive words and turned it into a positivity workbook.
So if you're struggling with the whole idea of thinking positively, try memorizing positive words first. It's the stretching that makes the other "positivity workouts" easier.
To keep growing your "positive brain", use this positive information in new ways. For example, you could memorize positive words and set an alarm that reminds you to recall these words, in reverse order, at the end of the day.
Or, you could print out these words on cards, cut them into 2 pieces, shuffle them all together and then find each card's match. For example, the word "laughter" would be cut into "laug" and "hter". To match the word pieces, your brain has to search through all of the positive information it has. So again, it helps you activate infrequently used regions of the brain — and activating them makes them stronger.
How to make positivity stick
2. Look for the Silver Linings to Develop a More Positive Attitude
People who struggle to have a positive attitude are generally good at finding the downside of any situation, person, or thing. They generate negative emotions easily and complain about all the problems they have, which can be many.
People with a positive attitude do the opposite—they always strive to find the upside. Really, these two perspectives are just two sides of the same coin. It’s all about positive attention. Do you pay attention to the good things or the bad things? If you want to shift your perspective, try to apply your canny ability to find the bad to develop your ability to find the good.
To start, anytime you are down about anything find at least one benefit.
Benefit finding involves thinking through and mentally listing all the positive things associated with a situation. For example, let’s say I lose my job. Although there may be negatives associated with this experience, there are also likely to be positives. I may have not really liked my boss or maybe now I can finally pursue another interest that I have been wanting to pursue. Of course, it can still be hard to think positive, but focusing on the positives makes everything a bit easier.
Of course, there will be many times in life when we experience tough situations and tough emotions. When we find the benefits in these situations we can make them a bit more tolerable and may even be able to grow and learn new things we never could have imagined. And often times it is life's challenges that lead to truly rewarding opportunities. When we remind ourselves of this we become capable of experiencing happiness, even when we are struggling.
A few more reasons why a positive attitude is so important:
3. Practice Random Acts of Kindness to Develop a More Positive Attitude
We don’t have to be giving, generous, and caring every moment—I mean cmon, we’re not aiming for perfection here. But if we want to develop a positive attitude, we can benefit from making an effort to be kinder to others. Sometimes it’s easy—for example, when we like these people or when we're pursuing a career with purpose and want to help the people we serve—but sometimes it’s harder. So start with whatever kindness makes you feel positive. If it doesn't feel good, it might not be right for you.
Being kinder can be easy if you engage in random acts of kindness. A random act of kindness could be anything from telling a co-worker you like her necklace, to congratulating a friend on an important achievement, to bringing a cup of soup to a family member who has the flu. These acts are small and unsolicited, but they show that you care—a significant part of what it means to be a positive person.
4. Smile and Laugh and Generally Enjoy Life to Develop a More Positive Attitude
A positive attitude is made up of more than thinking and acting in positive ways. It’s a feeling that others can detect in you when you don’t take life too seriously. Maybe you smile big when someone tells you there's food stuck in your teeth. Or you laugh when things don’t go your way. You make the decision to enjoy your life, regardless of what life throws at you.
Deciding to enjoy life more is a key step in developing a positive attitude. You could get upset when your friend repeatedly shows up late—or you could just decide not to. You could get anxious about your romantic partner leaving you—or just choose to spend your energy enjoying their company for as long as you have it. You could get angry about all the horrible things happening all over the world—or you could instead focus on righting the wrongs you see.
Some more tips of developing a positive personality
5. Savor Positive Moments
Maybe your friend gives you a small gift, a colleague makes you laugh, or flowers fill your front yard in spring. These are just moments, and we could let the positive emotions that arise fade away... or we could savor them.
When we learn to savor positive moments, we can more fully feel, enjoy, and extend our positive experiences. Savoring is a great way to develop a more positive attitude because positive events are more enjoyable.
6. Practice Gratitude
There are an infinite number of things to feel grateful, joyful, and excited about. It's up to us to decide which things, the positive or the negative, we want to focus on.
One way to train your brain to have a more positive attitude is to practice gratitude. Gratitude is when we feel or express thankfulness for the people, things, and experiences we have. One of the simplest ways to practice gratitude is by writing a list of all the things you are grateful for.
More activities to help you develop a positive attitude:
Still eager to learn more skills to develop your positive attitude? Try these activities below:
-Fredrickson, Barbara L. 2000. "Cultivating positive emotions to optimize health and well-being." Prevention & Treatment; Prevention & Treatment 3 (1):1a.
-Siegle, Greg J., Frank Ghinassi, and Michael E. Thase. 2007. "Neurobehavioral therapies in the 21st century: Summary of an emerging field and an extended example of cognitive control training for depression." Cognitive Therapy and Research 31 (2):235-262.
-Wadlinger, Heather A., and Derek M. Isaacowitz. 2008. "Looking happy: The experimental manipulation of a positive visual attention bias." Emotion 8 (1):121-126.
About Dr. Tchiki Davis
Dr. Davis is founder of The Berkeley Well-Being Institute. After getting her PhD in psychology at Berkeley, she started creating online content & programs to boost well-being—some of these have reached more than a million people. As author of Outsmart Your Smartphone, and contributor to Psychology Today, The Greater Good Science Center, and Shine Text, Dr. Davis aims to share her insights on happiness & health with people all across the world. Learn more about Dr. Davis.