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Help finding the bright side

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As many of you have read, nothing makes me grumpier than the Pollyanna Industrial Complex–the “just slap on a smile!” fake-it-til-you-make-it school of silly psychology that tries to convince us that if you’re not happy 24/7 that you’ve failed somehow in taking care of yourself. Barbara Ehrenreich wrote about this more eloquently than I can in Bright-Sided–highly recommended if you’ve felt like there’s something wrong with you for not simply visualizing your own Lotto-winning future.

No, the state of happiness is not something you can simply cross your arms and blink yourself over to, but you do have the ability to re-frame your pre-existing life in order to appreciate it more. That’s the thesis of my friend Amy Spencer’s new book, Bright Side Up. What I love about it and Amy, who is positive but human and realistic, is the idea that you can conceptualize your own well-being your way, like the multifaceted, imperfect and occasionally surly Formerly you no doubt are. She’s guest-blogging here, so you can get a little taste. The book comes out tomorrow, and I’m so excited for her.

I was watching The Bachelor the other day (sorry, I’m obsessed) when I was struck with some Formerly thoughts—mostly “Formerly could wear a bikini without sucking in my gut” ones. But then one of the bachelorettes started sharing some emotional insecurity that only stifles the very young and I thought, Man, I’ll take my gut over that any day. Because during the years I’ve gained these pounds, I’ve also gained invaluable life experience and a self-confidence we Formerlies can only get by living, loving, making mistakes and learning from them.

That’s basically how I roll with my down moments: I do my best to flip my perspective to the positive side. And in case you could use some help finding the good stuff sometimes, I wanted to share five ways looking on the bright side works for me:

1. Say “The Good News Is…” Like my reality TV reality check, there is good news if you choose to find it. Yes, your car broke down, but the good news is…you weren’t stuck in a snowstorm at midnight when it did. Yes, you have the flu, but the good news is…you haven’t wanted to eat an entire bag of Flavor Blast Fritos today. Yet.

2. Put a bow on it for your future self. You know that awful, very bad, annoying thing you’re going through? Well, your future self called and left a message: “Thank you.” Because if you can’t see a benefit in the present, then you’re probably you’re giving a present to your future. Rough patches and lost jobs and broken hearts may break us in the moment, but they make our future selves so much wiser, stronger, more empathetic and happier. So take it in and whisper, “You’re welcome.”

3. Lower your standards, sort of. There are so many things I don’t do because I don’t want to do them badly. (Hello, still-don’t-have-a-headboard-because-I-keep-intending-to-build-my-own.) My latest idea: We should lower our standards. At least, lower them for starting. If you’re “Formerly frozen by your To Do list,” start tackling it with some averagely okay starts and see how much happier you feel getting things done.

4. Recognize your new route is better. Ever get lost and end up discovering a short cut or a pretty road you forgot was even there? That’s how we can look at life when it sticks a roadblock in our path, too. Have faith that the detour life has put us on will actually turn out to be a better path then the path we had planned.

5. Take the tourist’s point of view. Like the Eiffel Tower to Parisians, what might seem like no big deal in your life is a Kodak moment to someone else. So look at your life the way a tourist might. Your small home may be four times the size that some people can afford, and the kids that drive you crazy may be the family one person dreams of. Think about what you have that, to some of life’s “tourists,” is worth showing off.

Those are just a few ideas to get you started. Maybe one or two will work for you and turn one of those “Formerly having a bad day” moments into having a pretty great one.

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