Does Believing in a Brighter Now and Future Make You Happier?
Psychological Capital — the good, the bad, and the ugly.
There is a school of thought that having a positive outlook on life makes you happier. But, does it?
What is psychological capital?
In psychology, having a positive outlook is explained as having high psychological capital. If you believe in yourself (have high self-efficacy), you have a generally positive outlook, you’re optimistic, and you have hope about life, you’re high in psychological capital.
From a work perspective, having high psychological capital can help you find the positives in your work even if you generally dislike what you do.
Unfortunately, our negative emotions are stronger than our positive ones. We tend to place more emphasis on negative events than when good things happen to us, meaning keeping your psychological capital high requires concerted effort.
Why it’s important now?
Psychological capital is an idea from the positive psychology moment. Positive psychology is a relatively new area of psychology that focuses on what’s good in life rather than analyzing what’s going wrong and trying to fix or manage those issues.
Coming out of the pandemic for some, and still in the depths of it for many, means having high psychological capital could be very beneficial to our mental wellbeing. It could help us deal with the current stress and trauma of this catastrophic event and help us reintegrate into life once the pandemic ends.
How can you increase your psychological capital?
Psychological capital isn’t just about thinking positively; it’s about retraining your brain to see the negative behavior patterns you follow and then flipping them to see things in a more positive light. Things that can support your ability to draw on your psychological capital are:
- Helping and supporting others helps us see our positive qualities in action and allows us see that we can have a good outcome on other’s lives.
- Finding Flow — the linked piece looks at flow from a work perspective, but you can easily apply these ideas to any part of your life.
- Looking for the good in difficult situations so that you can capitalize on the good you or others have achieved and see how you can apply that to your future goals. This is also known as appreciative inquiry.
- Being in the moment, or being mindful of what is happening right now, and appreciating the moment for what it is.
- Setting achievable goals that can help you to see success and keep you feeling capable.
- Finding a purpose bigger than your own helps you to get outside of your negativity. You know that something bigger is relying on you showing up and performing at whatever you’re doing.
- Surrounding yourself with people who support you and light you up
- Finding what you can control in situations where you feel out of control. However small these are, they all add up to increasing your feeling of a more positive and achievable outlook on life.
- Practicing good nutrition. I’m not a nutritionist, but I know that when I eat junk regularly and have sugar highs and lows, I do not feel good. When I eat a balanced diet with fresh fruit and veg, I feel much more able to cope with what life throws at me.
- The same goes for regular exercise.
Is psych cap always positive?
No. It depends on who you are. There are schools of thought that believe that trying to flip your thinking to a more positive outlook can be exhausting and counterintuitive. Perhaps the key is in how and why you’re doing it. If you’re trying to ‘think positively’ by making yourself go to the gym using willpower because you know it’s ‘good for you’, it’s unlikely to work.
The key is truly believing the positive thoughts. It’s gently changing the way your brain thinks and not chastising yourself when things don’t always go to plan. It’s never about forcing yourself to think differently.
Can you truly change?
I find it difficult to see the possibility of change some days, and other days I see how far I’ve come since adopting some of the principles to changing my own thought patterns.
I can dig myself out of dark times faster, and I can pick myself up more easily and when I’m facing a challenge. I’m a believer that you can change your brain and your perspective. It takes work — lots of work and constant repetition, but I believe it’s possible. But it will only be possible for you if you believe it too. The brain is funny like that…