Here’s the truth: It’s really hard to just be happy.
Yes, even I, a generally positive person, recognize that. As college students, our happiness is variable based on the day and what comes up throughout it. We have to deal with long lectures, friends and relationship drama (no, that was not left in high school), and so many other things that bring us down and introduce negativity into our lives.
Luckily, there are ways to maintain a positive mindset:
1. The Growth Mindset
As human beings, we’re constantly faced with challenges and problems that might seem too difficult. We think it would be easier to just give up, but doing so dampens our mood and our self-image. Those with a growth mindset are embracers of challenges, seeing not the challenge itself, but the possible growth and things they can learn from it. Frustration is useless and we don’t gain anything from it.
An important thing I do is track my growth from day to day. Every night, I try to reflect back on the day and decide the ways in which I grew. Not all days are good days, but I can always end up finding at least one thing that I learned, person I met or challenge I faced that helped me to grow just a little bit. In short, believe that everything you want is achievable and you are far better off than giving up.
2. Daily Goals
Goals are such an underrated thing, but they make a big difference in our lives if we stick with them. Writing out a laundry list of things you’d like to achieve sometime or another means nothing if you don’t take them seriously. Something I’ve found useful in the pursuit of sticking to my goals is using my planner. Every day, decide what you need to do and put it on your to-do list. Keeping to goals should be taken as seriously as everything else you need to achieve.
Short-term goals are just as important, because they give you little boosts of motivation. What I like to do is have a list of small goals each day. I only put three to four things on the list – sometimes fewer – so that I know they’re achievable. They may be as simple as making the time to read in my day, but it feels so satisfying once they’re crossed off the list.
3. Assume Positive Intent
We are constantly interpreting other people’s words and actions, and sometimes it can be easy to slip into the trap of negative assumptions.
Thinking “He wasn’t talking much, so he doesn’t like me,” or, “Wow she offered to help, she must think I’m not doing a good job,” can damage our relationships with other people. The next time something someone does upsets you, try to assume positive intent. Maybe they didn’t know what they said offended you or that their actions were perceived a certain way. Of course, maybe they did know, but it’s always best to give people the benefit of the doubt. It saves both sides from hurt, confusion, and anger. After all, we can’t read minds.
Simply put, gratitude is shown to reap a multitude of benefits. You don’t even have to keep a gratitude journal. It can be helpful to have a time and place to put down your gratitude, but there are so many ways to incorporate a gratitude practice into your life.
One of the best ways I practice gratitude is during moments when I’m not so grateful. Let’s say you sit down in a class you’ve been dreading. It’s a three-hour lecture in your worst class. The room is stuffy, you’re starving, and the professor won’t let you use your laptop. It’s understandable that in this moment, you might be frustrated
So take a look at the aspects of this moment that you’re grateful for: “I am so glad I’m able to get a degree in something I’m passionate about. I have to take this class to graduate, but it’s worth it.” You’re thankful to be sitting next to two of your good friends, who will make you smile during the lecture. Maybe the homework was really easy and you have a little more confidence for that next test. Suddenly, things are put into perspective.
5. Celebrate Progress
Focusing on the big picture was a good idea back in high school, when getting into college was our main focus, but now it’s time to zoom in a little bit. What have you accomplished that you can be proud of?
Did you finally get a B on a quiz in your most difficult class? Did you talk to someone without overthinking it and letting anxiety get in the way? What about doing that laundry you’ve been telling yourself to do for days?
It’s all about the small successes, so treat them like big successes and reward yourself! Get an A on your practice exam? Have a really fun night out with friends. Buy yourself some cookies. Do something you love. Treat. Yo. Self. You deserve it.
And there you have it – five ways to start thinking and living more positively. I’m not saying you’ll be happy right away, but instilling these habits into your life will clear away some of that negativity and help you to see things in a better light.
Keep in mind that this article is providing tips to generate a positive mindset, and should not be taken as a treatment or cure for mental illnesses such as depression or anxiety.