At first, the idea that you can be happier or more satisfied by making it a habit to think more positively may seem too good to be true. But there is evidence that by consistently applying techniques that develop positive emotions, experiences and habits, you can indeed improve your self-esteem as well as your overall health—even if you have a challenging chronic condition like a bleeding disorder.
Researchers have found that performing certain practices rewires the brain’s neural networks, developing and enhancing strengths like resilience, optimism, courage, perseverance and hope. Your version of happiness is of course unique to you, but by strengthening these mental attributes, research shows you can experience more meaning and fulfillment. Applying these practices won’t turn you into Pollyanna. You will experience challenging times and emotions. But by cultivating a more positive outlook, these hard times won’t bring you down as hard or for as long.
So how do you begin to enjoy these benefits? Start by trying the simple and proven practices below for three weeks and see how you feel.
1) Practice gratitude
As anyone with a bleeding disorder (or a caregiver of someone with a bleeding disorder) knows, life isn’t always rosy. But if you consistently choose to focus on the negative, your brain gets in the groove of looking for reasons to be gloomy. You can retrain your brain to look for good instead. To do this, develop your capacity for gratitude.
Each day, think of three positive moments that happened and write them down. You can make these as broad as you like. Talking with a friend, listening to a song you like, and eating a yummy dinner are all fair game. At first, you may struggle to come up with three, but as the days pass and you train your brain to look for the good that’s happened, it will get easier. Even if you’re coping with a bleed or another setback, there are always a few positive things to discover in your day.
2) Expand on a positive experience
Pick one good moment from your day and spend a few minutes recalling it in writing. Capture the details of the experience. Research has found that visualizing and writing down such positive events enhances the brain’s ability to establish them as positive memories to draw on later.
You already know consistent exercise is key for overall health and helps manage symptoms of bleeding disorders like joint pain. But the positive effects of exercise go further. Physical activity has neurological as well as physical benefits. Studies show that exercise enhances mood by boosting levels of feel-good brain chemicals like endorphins. In addition to feeling better, exercise helps ward off positivity-sapping emotions and experiences like stress, depression and anxiety. To reap the rewards, aim for the recommended 30 minutes a day of moderate-intensity activity. Everything from walking, jogging, bike riding, dancing or gardening is good.
Although it’s more mainstream than ever, meditation can be daunting to get started with for some. Practicing meditation teaches us to more fully experience the present moment. Without being overwhelmed by thoughts of the past or the future, our minds can relax a bit. Allowing thoughts, feelings and sensations to arise in our minds, and accepting them for what they are without judgment, helps promote a sense of overall contentment that carries over into life in general. Start with just a few minutes a day of meditation (e.g., focusing on the rising and falling of your breath) and build to longer sessions.
5) Perform random acts of kindness
Over time, regularly doing uncomplicated kind gestures requiring minimal effort on your part can have a big impact on your well-being—and on the outlooks of the recipients of your acts of kindness. Evidence shows such acts build optimism and hope in yourself and reinforce the positive impact you can have on your own quality of life while also improving the lives of others.
This may seem the most difficult practice to accomplish every day, but again, think broadly. Bring up your neighbor’s trash cans from the street when you grab your own. Buy coffee for the person behind you in line or pick up lunch for a co-worker. Bake cookies for your hemophilia treatment center’s staff or your child’s teacher. Send an email or text to someone simply saying you appreciate them. There are endless ways to bring a little joy to others, and enjoy it while you’re doing so. For more ideas, visit randomactsofkindness.org.