“If you want to alter your brain chemistry, you don’t have to take expensive drugs; you can just smile.”
Dr. Dale Anderson
The little boy wasn’t very happy about being cast as an angel in the Christmas pageant because he didn’t like his costume. He didn’t want to wear a robe, halo, and wings. But when he learned that he had a speaking part in the pageant, he felt somewhat better. He was to come on stage and say, “Behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy.”
During rehearsals, he had trouble remembering his part, especially the part about “tidings.” So he asked his mother what the word “tidings” meant. She said it meant “good news.”
On the day of the pageant, when it was his turn to speak, the boy walked to the edge of the stage and in a loud voice said, “Hey there, everybody, I’ve got good news for you.” And to many people, perhaps most people, the holiday season is good news.
But it’s also true that the holiday season is a season filled with difficult feelings for many people. It may be a time when old, negative memories resurface, when expectations are not met, when extended family members come into contact and conflict with one another, and when work schedules may make the season anything but holly and jolly.
Even if you fall into that category of having too many negative feelings, the good news is you can turn those feelings around. Here’s how you do it.
=> 1. Smile … whether or not you feel like it.
As physician Dr. Dale Anderson has discovered, there’s an amazing overlap in the medical arts and the theatrical arts. When actors play sad parts, their brain chemistry changes to the point they actually feel depressed. And when actors play happy parts, their brain chemistry changes accordingly, releasing the kinds of chemicals that give them real joy.
So his prescription to his patients who are down? Smile … whether or not you feel like it. Fake it til you make it. It might sound silly, Anderson says, but smiling brings the same kinds of positive feelings that people often seek in drugs.
He’s right. That’s why I like the poster I saw in the back room of one retail establishment where I was teaching a course on customer service. Someone in that store knew the importance of a smile and posted this sign for everyone to read and hopefully follow. It said:
A smile costs nothing, but gives much.
It enriches those who receive, without making poorer those who give.
It takes but a moment, but the memory of it sometimes lasts forever.
None is so rich or mighty that he can get along without it, and none is so poor but
that he cannot be made rich by it.
A smile creates happiness in the home, fosters good will in business, and is the
sign of friendship. It brings rest to the weary, cheer to the discouraged, sunshine to
the sad, and it is nature’s best antidote for trouble.
Sound advice. That’s why I tell people: “You are never fully dressed until you wear a smile.”
=> 2. Write it out to let it out.
When you have a problem, when you’re filled with negative feelings, psychology professor Dr. James Pennebaker says you’ve got to get it out of your system. After all, “If the issue isn’t resolved,” he says, “your body is essentially reliving that experience every time you think about it. That’s very stressful on the body because it constricts blood vessels, raises blood pressure, depresses the immune system, and could exacerbate your risk of stroke, heart disease, and cancer.”
To counteract all that, start writing about your problem and your feelings. Set aside 20 minutes a day for 4 days, and keep on writing for the entire 20 minutes. Let your feelings and thoughts flow freely onto your paper, forgetting about your grammar or spelling. And if you like, you can throw the paper away at the end of each day.
As Pennebaker notes, “Writing will help you organize your thoughts and help you get them out of your system. By the end of the fourth day, most people feel a lot better about themselves.” It’s a fairly easy way to solve a problem and manage negative feelings … all at the same time.
=> 3. Say affirmations.
Everybody talks to themselves. The problem is … most of this self-talk is negative. In fact, you may be guilty of telling yourself such things as: “I can’t believe I said that … Boy, was that ever stupid … I’ll never get everything done on time … Now I’ll never make that sale … I can’t lose weight … I can’t remember names … or … I’ll never have any money.”
Unfortunately, what you speak about tends to come about. If you speak negatives, you typically get negative outcomes. If someone asks how you’re doing and you answer, “Well, you know, it’s December, and I always get a cold in December,” chances are you’ll get a cold.
Contrast that to W. Clement Stone, a pioneer in the insurance industry as well as the positive thinking movement. Whenever he was asked how he was doing, Stone would answer, “I feel happy. I feel healthy, and I feel terrific.” Imagine saying that dozens of times a day every day. Perhaps that’s one reason he lived into his 90’s, never sick a day in his life.
Whenever I’m teaching my “Journey to the Extraordinary” program, I teach the exact process of affirmations … of what to say, how to say it, and when to say it … because the process brings about amazingly positive results. And that’s why Dr. Norman Vincent Peale wrote repeatedly, “Watch your manner of speech if you wish to develop a peaceful state of mind. Start each day by affirming peaceful, contented and happy attitudes and your days will tend to be pleasant and successful.”
Bottom line: If you’re dealing with a bunch of negative feelings, don’t dwell on them and don’t verbalize them over and over again. Instead, speak out positive affirmations, saying such things as “I can … I’m good at … and … I succeed at…” and you will feel better and do better.
=> 4. Pamper a pet.
Of course, this tip may not be for everyone, but the research is very clear. Dr. Dennis Gersten, a San Diego psychiatrist and publisher of “Atlantis: The Imagery Newsletter,” says, “For many people over 60, a cat, dog or other pet truly can mean the difference between life and death. Studies show that people in this age group who have pets live longer and have stronger immune systems.”
In other words, many people simply FEEL better when they spend time with a pet who loves them unconditionally. Unlike the rest of the world, the pet doesn’t care how the Christmas dinner turned out, and the pet doesn’t care if the Dow Jones stock index is up or down. The pet just cares about you.
=> 5. Spend time in a garden.
Again, this might sound a little hokey … using a garden to manage or transform your negative feelings … but once again the research backs up this strategy. Dr. Bruno Cortis, a Chicago cardiologist and author of “Heart and Soul,” has found that house plants make people feel calmer and more optimistic. In fact, he even prescribes gardens and gardening as a way to prevent or heal heart disease … pointing to a study that shows that hospital patients … whose windows face a garden … recover more quickly than those who face a wall.
=> 6. Eat smart.
That’s always a challenge … but even more so during the holiday season. You can’t feel super positive if you’re eating super bad.
As I often say in my seminar on “Take This Job and Love It! Managing Stress, Preventing Burnout, and Balancing Life … On and off the Job,” nobody would be stupid enough to put kerosene in their car’s gas tank and expect to drive across the country. Yet those same people put junk food through their mouths for 20, 30, 40 years and then wonder why they don’t feel good. You can’t put the wrong fuel in and expect to get the right results out.
The research that connects the foods you eat and the moods you feel can be a little confusing. But we do know this. There is no one food that will automatically turn your negative feelings around. However, as Dr. Gersten points out, eating six servings of fruits and vegetables and five servings of grains a day WILL help you fend off depression and other unwanted emotions.
=> 7. Stay away from negativity.
Feelings are contagious. If you hang around folks who are filled with positive emotions, some of their good feelings will rub off on you. And if you hang around people who are always spouting off with negativity, it can easily depress you. So your mama was right. Choose your friends or associates carefully.
Personally, I like Kristi Roth’s approach. She writes, “I’m sure you know the corporate culture can be rather brutal. Nothing can bring me down faster than having someone tell me about all the rotten political games and back stabbing going on in my department. I simply don’t want to know unless it’s going to affect me directly. Ignorance can definitely be bliss!”
Of course, you may be saying, “I’m stuck with some negative people at work and at home. I can’t stay away from them all that easily.” If that is the case, I refer you to the all the tips above.
Finally, in the quest to manage or turn your negative feelings around,
=> 8. Remind yourself better days are coming.
In other words, your negative feelings won’t last forever. They can’t … unless you feed them.
And one way to starve your negative feelings to death is to find the good in everything. As 20th century philosopher and educator James K. Feibleman taught, “That some good can be derived from every event is a better proposition than that everything happens for the best, which it assuredly does not.”
When you find the good in everything, your negative feelings begin to dissipate.
You could also remind yourself … repeatedly if necessary … that the best is yet to come. That’s what woman did when she was diagnosed with a terminal illness and was given only three months to live. She contacted her pastor to discuss her final wishes. She told him which songs she wanted sung at the service, what Scriptures she would like read, and what outfit she wanted to be buried in. When everything was in order and the pastor was about to leave her house, the woman suddenly remembered something very important to her. “There’s one more thing,” she said excitedly.
“What’s that?” came the pastor’s reply. “I want to be buried with a fork in my right hand,” the woman continued.
The pastor looked at the woman, not knowing what to say. “That surprises you, doesn’t it?” the woman asked.
The woman explained, “In all my years of attending church dinners, I always remember that when the dishes of the main course were being cleared, someone would inevitably lean over and say, ‘Keep your fork. The best is yet to come.’ It was my favorite part of the meal because I knew something better was coming … like velvety chocolate cake or deep-dish apple pie. So, I want people to see me in that casket with a fork in my hand, and I want them to wonder ‘What’s with the fork?’ Then I want you to tell them: ‘Keep your fork. The best is yet to come.'”
The pastor’s eyes welled up with tears of joy as he hugged the woman goodbye. He knew this would be one of the last times he would see her before her death. But he also knew that the woman had a better grasp of the future than he did. She knew something better was coming.
At the funeral, people were walking by the woman’s casket, and they saw the fork in her right hand. Over and over the pastor heard the same question, “What’s with the fork?” And he just smiled. During his message, however, he told the people of the conversation he had with the woman shortly before she died. He also told them about the fork and what it symbolized for her. He finished his comments by saying he could not get the fork out of his mind and they probably wouldn’t either.
He was right. And so was the woman. When you’re facing a tough situation or when you’re dealing with some negative feelings, remind yourself that better days are coming.
Which of the 8 feeling-management techniques do you need to perfect? What will you do about it?