“Positive thinking” has become a cliché, but Scott Glassman, PsyD, learned firsthand that it takes real action — and produces real results.
Glassman was bullied in middle school, and spent much of his youth feeling depressed. As an adult at the University of Pennsylvania, he worked with Martin Seligman, the leading figure in positive psychology. He then continued his studies of Health Psychology, a holistic approach to physical, spiritual, and emotional health.
All of these experiences came together in Glassman’s work at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine, where he built the “You Are The Happiest You” program.
Initially, Glassman worked with patients seeking mental health care, who used the seven-session program to improve coping techniques and well-being. The college has been so impressed that A Happier You is now available to staff, faculty, and students.
Glassman also turned the program into a book, You’re Happiest: A Seven-Week Program to Turn Negative Thinking into Positive and Resilience. As with the original program, it is designed to be followed up over seven weeks, so that readers can make changes that are manageable and have a positive, long-term impact.
Glassman practices what he preaches, including gratitude, self-compassion, and small actions that build a positive life.
Taking the time each day to take stock of the things you are grateful for in your life is a small but meaningful way to steer your mental compass in a positive direction.
Scott likes to do gratitude exercises in the morning. “Think of the morning as a starting point for the rest of the day: It sets the tone,” he says. Specifically, he makes his menu while putting on his contact lenses. It has become a daily ritual that helps him calmly prepare for the day with a positive attitude.
Your list of what you are grateful for can range from the tiny — the sunshine, the feel of your breath — to the deep: the people who support you.
One of the most powerful qualities of gratitude is that it makes us feel more connected to the world around us. When you share it with the people you love, and make sure they know you appreciate everything they do for you, it brings you closer.
“Gratitude connects us to others,” Scott says. “It’s a way of feeling connected in our lives, that we are not islands floating in the sea.”
Even if you’re alone when making your gratitude list, taking the time to acknowledge and value the beautiful things in your life can help you develop a sense of belonging. You remind yourself that the world has given you things to love, and that the world in turn deserves to be loved.
“When we get to this state, we feel like our world is closer to home,” Scott says. “It is a warm home, where others care about us and we care about others. Nature cares about us, we care about nature. Feeling full of these bonds leads to a greater sense of hope.”
How to create an upward spiral
Humans tend to quickly get caught up in the stresses that occur in our lives. Blame it on our old selves: When you live in the wild, it’s important to always look for danger – or a saber tiger – approaching the next corner.
Unfortunately, the same instincts that protected us today encourage our brains to focus on perceived threats, in a way that leads to rumination and depression.
The good news is that there are ways to reverse the flow of your thoughts, from a negative spiral to an upward spiral. By deliberately focusing on positive thoughts and actions, you can reset your mind to prioritize happiness, rather than stress or sadness.
You can start by measuring the temperature of your happiness. Ask yourself, on a scale of 1 to 10, how happy am I today? How optimistic am I today? How much control do I have over my happiness and hope?
Once you have your number, think about how you will reach it from a positive perspective. For example, why did you rank your happiness third and not second? I had four yesterday: why are you six today?
This creates an opportunity to take an optimistic view, rather than indulging in negativity: “A fullness mindset versus a helplessness mindset, versus a rumination-oriented approach toward negativity,” says Scott.
It can lead you to realize that something that was bothering you yesterday is now resolved, or to see that despite some stressors, you still have many things in your life that increase your happiness.
As you get better at searching for silver linings, you can also improve your coping abilities. Scott refers to the “expand and build” theory developed by Barbara Fredrickson, Ph.D., which states that actively engaging in a positive outlook makes us better at solving problems. In this mindset, we become better at finding resources and support. This in turn leads us to solutions that reduce our stress and help us become happier.
Another useful tool for starting this ascending spiral is the agility slate. Write down the things that make you laugh – that make you feel like walking on air. Silly and fun stuff welcome: Your list might include videos of cats, a certain comedian, or meaningless jokes for your child.
Laughter is one of the body’s best antidote to the mental and physical effects of stress. Purposefully identifying the things that bring humor and fun into your life can help make it easier in your bad moments. It can help you reset your thinking away from stress and back to the positivity that is leading you into an upward spiral.
How small steps can lead to big changes
Deciding to completely change your way of thinking from negative to positive is an overwhelming challenge. Especially if you feel depressed. “Sometimes we don’t make changes in our lives because it seems so daunting,” Scott admits.
Instead of treating this journey as one big task, break it down into smaller steps. You may do some of them, without realizing that they are accomplishments in themselves.
“We often overlook the small steps we take in life,” Scott says. “We didn’t want to get out of bed in the morning, but we did. We didn’t want to have a healthy lunch, but decided to add one vegetable.”
Recognizing these small positive steps as accomplishments can help us feel ready to take the next and next step. Ultimately, these things add to that upward spiral. “It makes the change more manageable,” Scott says.
Starting with these small ways of taking care of yourself can help you slowly move toward a deeper sense of self-love. “It’s asking what I can do to make myself more comfortable, or to put myself in a better frame of mind at the moment, versus how I can love myself wholeheartedly so deeply,” Scott explains.
You cannot rewire your brain overnight. But you can make one small change — and celebrate your first step to becoming happier.
Continue the conversation with Scott Glassman at Pioneering with real care Audio notation. We also talk about finding awe in everyday moments, how to develop self-compassion, finding your own meaning in life, and more. Follow me Twitter or LinkedIn. check out my website Or some of my other works Here.