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Here Are Ways That Help Give You a Happy Outlook

During tough times, stay positive but real, experts urge

Jeff Parrott Staff Reporter
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When we force ourselves to be upbeat, even when the outside world is weighing on us heavily, we can suffer both physically and mentally. 
- Carla Marie Manly, a clinical psychologist


With the coronavirus pandemic, racial justice movement, raging political divide, and economic recession hitting all at once, many of our lives have been upended recently. For some, every day can feel like a struggle to survive, let alone be happy.

But maintaining a happy outlook is more important than ever, as long as we don’t let our pursuit of that worthwhile goal mask our negative feelings and reality, mental health experts say.

Carla Marie Manly, a clinical psychologist and author of the book, "Joy from Fear: Create the Life of Your Dreams by Making Fear Your Friend," says seeking ways to find a happy outlook during difficult times is critical for maintaining good health.

"In essence, it’s important to have an upbeat, positive outlook in life, as such an attitude staves off anxiety, depression, and a host of other mental health issues,” Manly said. “Moreover, research consistently shows that those with a positive mindset tend to live longer, healthier lives."

Expert's Favorite Apps

Zurlia Servellon, a Sacramento, California-based psychologist who also owns a business consulting firm, says that when we are stressed, we release cortisol, which decreases our IQ levels by 40% to 50%. But when we are positive and grateful, we naturally release the hormone DHEA, which decreases depression.

Servellon says she personally uses two apps that help her keep a positive outlook, even during tough times. One is called Balance, which gives users a one-year free subscription, guiding them through meditation to calm the mind and improve focus. Users can adjust it to fit their personal goals, she says.

She discovered Balance in February when she was stuck in Brazil because of the pandemic, a nation that’s been a global hot spot for the virus, and “did not know how things would turn out.” Balance helped keep her spirits up. After the U.S. embassy advised her to leave the country because gangs were taking over, she managed to find an emergency flight back to the United States.

Servellon also enjoys the app Grace Space Hypnosis, which a friend introduced her to this past spring. It costs about $20 monthly or about $120 a year.

“This app has completely changed my life,” Servellon says. “It helped me rewire my entire mindset and helped me change my behavior.”

Servellon says the app guides users through self-hypnosis and has helped her discover many “patterns” and thoughts that she hadn’t known existed.

“I am an entrepreneur and running a company under stress can decrease productivity,” Servellon says. “These two apps help me stay on top of the game.”

Positive While Real

However, we can take the “bright side” approach too far.

While Manly says the benefits of a positive attitude on both physical and mental health are wide-ranging — from better sleep to more satisfying relationships — she's a firm believer that "false happiness," often called "toxic positivity," can create a host of mental health issues of its own.

"When we force ourselves to be upbeat, even when the outside world is weighing on us heavily, we can suffer both physically and mentally,” Manly says. “Not being realistic and embracing all of one’s emotions, such as fear, sadness, and frustration can lead to chronic anxiety, depression, and even suicidality.”

Brian Wind, a clinical psychologist, and Chief Clinical Officer of JourneyPure, an addiction treatment center, agrees.

“Being overly optimistic and blocking out all negative news may not lead to improved well-being because it can lead to constant disappointment when a person comes up against reality when they are expecting the best outcome,” Wind says. “People who are realistic gather information from unbiased sources and use it to make sound decisions. Getting your expectations right most of the time may bring you a better sense of wellbeing.”

Avoid Biased "News"

What this means for people now is that they may want to start filtering the news sources and people they follow on social media, and only follow unbiased sources to get their news information, Wind says.

“They can also restrict the amount of time spent on reading news every day to limit stressors and avoid doomscrolling,” Wind notes.

Katherine Porter, a California-based attorney, and executive coach said she prefers the term “positive” over “happy.”

“Happy sets a pretty high bar if we’re talking about how we feel right now,” says Porter, founder, and CEO of The Transition Navigator. “On the other hand, I think ‘positive’ and ‘hopeful’ are more future-facing. I think an app that reminds us that whether we are happy or not right now, we can still be positive about the future, would be helpful for people who are heavy with all the conflict and uncertainty around us.”

Positivity Example

Porter recalled a recent client who wanted to make a shift from working for the government to human resources consulting. She told Porter all of the reasons she didn’t think she could do it, which mainly boiled down to her lack of an HR degree or formal HR experience.

But Porter helped her realize all of the parallels between her current work, which involved a lot of policy and procedures, and the kind of work she wanted to do, writing HR policies and procedures.

“Her outlook began shifting away from the negative and toward what was possible,” Porter says. “She was able to take actions to build her business rather than remaining anchored by all the doubts.” 

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Here Are Ways That Help Give You a Happy Outlook

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