Positive psychology is centered around research on intentional activities. People are becoming more and more successful at transforming their lives for the better thanks to deliberate positive interventions. Focused, mindful acts—for example practicing acts of kindness, expressing gratitude, and reviewing the good things that happened in your life today—have an additional effect. The more good things we do, the better we feel, and the more we pursue intentional activities to complement these good feelings.
Barbara Fredrickson, one of the leading researchers in the field, coined this progression “broaden and build.” Intentional activities include meditation, exercise, expressive writing, or the well-known “count your blessings.” Researchers and practical specialists are always looking for new ways to add to our emotional piggybank.
How does this transformation actually take place?
Even though in this case he spoke in a negative light, Hemingway’s well-known quote from The Sun Also Rises gives insight:
How did you go bankrupt? Two ways, gradually and then suddenly.
Know That Change Takes Time
The same goes for positive transformation. It starts with an unnoticeable introduction and then gains enough momentum to take off. An important rule to follow: change takes time.
This glass bucket analogy is the perfect illustration. The day we are born, each of us are given a massive glass bucket to fill with all of life’s thoughts and experiences. The events in your life appear in your glass as different colored drops of water. They are all different. Some of the drops are dark yellow, some of them are red, blue, and some of them orange. Over time and with each event, the colors combine together and give the bucket a shade. With each experience we encounter, we are tinted. Yet, any one drop doesn’t change the color drastically.
Once you’re a young adult, your glass bucket is full of millions of drops—say your bucket is a dark yellow color. Let’s also say that dark yellow represents negativity: a more pessimistic outlook than optimistic.
When our buckets contain more of one color, they start to pursue that color. The more they pursue that color, the more they find it. The stray orange or blues trickle in, however, not often enough to change our glass’ overall color.
When we decide to make a change, and to start intentionally doing positive activities, we expect the color of our glass bucket to change. Sure, positive acts start the process, but it’s the consistency that will make all the difference.
If a royal blue drop signifies positivity, one royal blue drop doesn’t instantly change the color of your bucket. But the more royal blue drops that sneak into your bucket, the difference in color will start to become more evident. You’re bucket will slowly start to turn green.
Notice and Accept Change
Now that your bucket is green (optimistic), you are going to stay drawn to better thoughts and better experiences. It’s okay if this feels abnormal to you—because it is. Especially if you’ve spent years being drawn to pessimism. When good thoughts come to you, it can be unsettling.
It can be challenging to recognize that change is occurring inside us. Even if we accept this change within ourselves, it will take time to adjust. The Beat poet, Allan Ginsburg, suggested sage advice for this process when he said: “Notice what you notice.”
Not to confuse metaphors but allowing yourself to partake in intentional positive activities is similar to starting a new exercise program. Sure, if you’re not used to working out, your body will ache and you’ll be tired. However, if you stick with it and whether the storm, soon your muscles won’t be sore after a workout.
Embody the Change
As you allow more positivity to enter your life, your glass bucket will have more and more blue drops. The dark yellow drops don’t disappear, but they’re not the entirety of your glass. You see them as the past, and no longer your present.
When practicing positive psychotherapy, there is an intervention where you ask the client to think back on a time where they had one door close, to allow another (better) door to be opened. For example, the end of a relationship, leading you to a new, healthier one; getting laid off leading you to a new position.
When you change the way you view things, it allows you to absorb the inevitable yellow drops that will dribble into our lives and allow us to see them as capable of turning a deep, royal blue. It is crucial for us to never stop seeking out royal blue drops to add to our glass buckets.
We began with a quote by Henry David Thoreau, and he can bring us full circle. Thoreau was a failed writer in New York City. He returned to Walden Pond to write what is often considered one of the top 100 nonfiction books ever written. Perhaps better than anyone, his words capture the nature of change, and the spirit of positive transformation: “Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you’ve imagined.”