We all tend to ruminate on things that have gone wrong in our lives—a mistake we made at work, an evening that didn’t go as planned. We might even think about them so often that our lives seem filled with these mishaps and disappointments. Focusing on them too much, however, can cast a pall over our lives and even be associated with depressive thinking.
Looking on the bright side of life in general, or of a bad situation in particular, can increase happiness by boosting your sense of self-worth, motivating you to go after your goals, and enhancing your enjoyment of life. Regularly completing the silver linings exercise can help you get in the habit of recognizing positive aspects of your life and seeing the upside to challenging situations rather than fixating on the downsides. With repeated practice, you may find that it comes more naturally to look on the bright side, even when faced with difficulties in your life.
Looking on the bright side even when things go wrong is a key component of optimism, which links to lower rates of depression, a better ability to cope with stress, and more relationship satisfaction, among other benefits. Many of us have a tendency to look on the bright side too rarely, not too often. The following drill is designed to help you achieve a healthier balance:
Drill : 10 Minutes daily
- To start, list five things that make you feel like your life is enjoyable, enriching, and/or worthwhile at this moment. These things can be as general as “being in good health” or as specific as “drinking a delicious cup of coffee this morning.” The purpose of this first step is to help you shift into a positive state of mind about your life in general.
- Next, think about the most recent time when something didn’t go your way, or when you felt frustrated, irritated, or upset.
- In a few sentences, briefly describe the situation in writing.
- Then, list three things that can help you see the bright side of this situation. For example, perhaps you missed your bus this morning. Three ways to look on the bright side of this situation might be:
- Even though you missed the bus, you got some good exercise when you were running to catch it.
- You’re fortunate to live in a city where there was another bus just 10 minutes later, or where buses run reliably at all.
- Ten years from now, you likely won’t remember what happened this morning.
Participants who completed the drill daily for three weeks reported greater engagement in life and less dysfunctional thinking (e.g., believing that small failures make one a failure as a person). Participants who had a tendency to be pessimistic especially benefited from the exercise and showed fewer depressive symptoms afterward. However, these effects seemed to wear off two months later, suggesting the need to repeat this practice periodically.