Updated on 09.18.14

Improve Your Attitude, Improve Your Life

Trent Hamm

There are quite a few things that you can do to improve your financial and personal state without spending even a single dime. One of the biggest is simply improving your attitude – the way you interpret the things around you and the way you relate to others.

Think about it for a moment. I want you to imagine the single most caustic person you’ve ever had to interact with for a long period of time (I certainly know who my person is). Did that person provide any sort of encouragement (outside of fear) to do any sort of constructive work? Did that person make you feel good and properly motivated to do exceptional work?

On the flip side of that coin, imagine the best person you’ve ever had to interact with in a professional way. Did you often go the extra mile when this person asked? Did you try harder in order to please this person? Did you simply enjoy your time in the workplace (or in everyday life) more because of this person?

What a world of difference the people around you make.

Of course, the same is true for you. To other people, you’re somewhere on that spectrum of positivity and negativity between the two people above. The more negative you are, the more others are going to react to you like you did to the negative person. The more positive you are, the more others are going to react to you like you did to the positive person.

To put it simply, the more positive you are, the greater the positive impact you have on your professional and personal life. Here are five areas where it comes through loud and clear.

The Benefits of a Positive Attitude

1. Career success

Positive people get promoted and get raises not just because of their own work, but because they bring out the best in others.

2. Stress reduction

Negativity leads to stress because it convinces you that the events around you are bad. Meanwhile, looking for the positives in a situation convinces you that the events around you are better, which reduces stress. Lower stress has a strong effect on personal health and health care costs.

3. Teamwork improvement

The more positive you are, the better your interactions will be with the people around you. Think simply of how you react in comparison to the people around you – the same general themes are true with regards to how people interact with you.

4. Customer relations improvement

The same idea is true with your customers: the more positive you are with your customers, the better your relationship with them will be and the more business you’ll develop with them.

5. Motivational improvement

This is perhaps the most unorthodox one, but it’s also true. If you look at your work with a positive attitude, it’s much easier to actually do the work than if you apply a negative attitude towards it, no matter what you’re doing.

That’s great, of course, but how exactly can you do that? Here are five specific tactics you can use in your day-to-day life to improve your attitude towards the people and things around you.

Five Tactics to Improve Your Attitude

1. Come up with a positive response to every situation you meet

Yes, sometimes our first response is negative. I’m never happy when my daughter uses too much toilet paper and proceeds to flood the bathroom, for example. Simply stepping back for a moment and looking for a positive response to the situation, though, can make all the difference. The spilled water can be a close experience with my daughter, as I gather up some towels to mop up the water and allow her to help me as we sing songs while doing it, then I plunk her in the tub as I Lysol the floor, and then we have a fun bath time.

2. Look for the good in other people

Rather than seeking to identify the negative traits in the people around you that you interact with, look for the positive ones. Person A might not be the most skilled person, but he does put forth a lot of effort and ask a lot of good questions. Person B might have a caustic personality, but she does show tremendous efficiency in handling some incredibly complicated projects.

3. Act happy, even if it’s a painted dayglow smile

You don’t have to be happy – often, that’s an impossibly tall order. Instead, just act happy. The more you do it, the more natural it becomes. Even more interesting, the more you do it, the more it becomes a part of you – you actually do feel happier.

4. Drop the sarcasm

Sarcasm can be a lot of fun, but in the end, it’s just negativity wrapped up and packaged as a joke. Drop the sarcasm – you don’t need to ridicule things you don’t like. Just expend your energy elsewhere; don’t even think of the ridicule-worthy things at all.

5. Get plenty of rest and eat a good diet

This (along with exercise) is one sure way to naturally elevate your mood. It’ll increase your energy and focus, decrease your stress, and make it easier to interact with the world.

You have nothing to lose and everything to gain by adding a little more positivity to your life.

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  1. anne says:

    about #4- dropping the sarcasm…

    chances are some of the people you work with or interact with are not able to grasp that you are being sarcastic, and they are taking you literally.

  2. Victoria Vargas says:

    4.Drop the sarcasm. You nailed this one. I recently had to talk to someone at work about how people were interpreting his sarcasm veiled in jokes quite badly. They didn’t get his humor and thought he hated his job, which wasn’t the case at all. I’d also add to your list Stop Complaining. Nothing will kill a positive environment or situation faster than someone spouting their litany of woes. It brings everyone down, most especially the person doing it. Great post, Trent. This one gets filed under my favorites.

  3. Todd says:

    Great post. It reminds me of the saying that “it’s not about having what you want, but wanting what you have.” Personal finance is about 80% what’s in your head and only about 20% what’s in your wallet.

  4. Alexandra says:

    I don’t know… maybe I’m too far gone. But when I expect the worst and believe that life isn’t supposed to be perfect I’m happier because I’m not stressing about getting things right – I’m assuming they’re going to go wrong and I’m pleasantly surprised whenever they don’t!
    Perhaps I’m just in a bad place right now.

  5. Red says:

    Thanks for all of the information, great blog by the way!

  6. Last fall, I started focusing on decreasing stress and increasing my happiness and leisure time. I’ve seen positive quantitative and qualitative results in my professional and personal lives.

    The key changes were related to positivity, physical health (rest, eating right, and exercising), and decreasing mental and physical clutter. It’s surprising how easily and innovatively problems in work and life can be resolved when I’m in a good mood; I’m listening to people, rested, welcoming of ideas, and looking for solutions, not problems.

    I’m more than 50% more productive at work. Coworkers have asked me for advice on increasing their productivity, and their mangers have seen tangible changes.

    Personally, I’m happier. I focus on what’s most important to me and have more fun. Life is simpler.

  7. Doug Warshauer says:

    Great stuff. Staying positive is creates a virtuous cycle of success. With that in mind, I’d add a sixth tactic: do something you’re good at every day. When you spend time doing things you do well, you tend to feel good about yourself, and that positive feeling really can get the ball rolling for you.

  8. karishma says:

    Your daughter is potty-trained already? I’m impressed.

  9. Great article Trent.

    One of my best friends is extremely negative, to the point where it’s hard to talk to him for too long. I know this is why he is still single in his 50s and not doing well in his career. I have told him this many times, but he swears he is very positive. I wish I could help him.

    I’m fortunate to be very happy and positive, because I choose to live this way. I have found negative people dampen my spirits, so I try to avoid them for more than casual chat. I’m lucky to work with a lot of highly positive and talented people right now.

  10. Atul says:

    I think it’s good to have a positive attitude a lot of the time, but it’s also important to make sure you don’t bottle up your negative emotions.

  11. I’ve found it helpful to focus on feelings of gratitude. Usually that enables me to change my perspective into something more positive–even in truly bad circumstances.

    Casual Kitchen

  12. I find sarcastic people really hard to deal with. My mother-in-law has used sarcasm for years to bully her sons and daughter into doing stuff for her. I’ve finally learned to not to give her openings as much as possible, to keep the communication short and direct. She’s not happy with this, but it has helped keep things from blowing into larger issues.

    As a result of my experience with my mil, I try to keep people in my life who are positive. I feel more motivated to do my best when I am around them which leads me to do better most of the time.

  13. Hank says:

    One thing that changed my attitude is when I stopped sweating the small stuff. Just like the book said. My relationships at work got so much better when I stopped getting all wound up over the little things, and then my productivity went up as well.

  14. Aunt Jenny says:

    Very timely article for me. It’s so easy to fall into some of these behaviors when I’m unhappy about stuff at work. Thanks for the reminder Trent.

  15. Claudia says:

    I always try to see the glass half-full. But when I’m surrounded with “half-empty” people it can be a struggle to not get sucked down with them.
    I so agree with comment #2. When we were struggling with finances, I wanted everything. The finance issue was stressful and being so envious of posessions did not put me in a good place. When our finances got better and we were making more money, I could afford many of things I so desperately wanted before. But, I found just being able to say I could buy that if I wanted to was enough. I really didn’t want most of that junk anyway!

  16. Brittany says:

    Bah on #4. A sense of humor and joking with coworkers are essential to maintaining a positive attitude.

  17. Peggy says:

    Huh. And you aren’t at all concerned that daughter will understand the lesson to be “Gee, when I stop up the toilet, Dad drops what he’s doing and we have a fun time together!”

  18. Lynn says:

    Peggy – What do you think he should do? Yell at her?

  19. Gretchen says:

    Shouldn’t you at least point out *why* we don’t use too much toilet paper?

    I agree with the general point of looking on the bright side, but not everything has a positive spin. Especially for me if I dropped the sarcasm. :)

  20. Jeff says:

    A timely post. I’ve been working hard to maintain a positive attitude even though life’s gotten pretty heavy lately.

    I sure wish I could perpetually cast aside my troubles as easily I do all my blessings.

  21. Harry says:

    This was very inspirational on this Sunday, I see myself in this and will work hard to change.

    Thank You.

  22. Johanna says:

    Isn’t the classification of some people as “caustic” (or “poisonous” or even “negative”) – and attributing your lack of motivation to do your job to their attitude – itself an act of negativity? Whatever happened to not blaming other people for your own problems?

    Maybe I’m just lucky, but I don’t think I’d call any of the people I’ve worked with “caustic.” I’ve worked with people that I didn’t get along with, sure. And I’ve worked with plenty of people who don’t go out of their way to hide it when they’re in a bad mood. While it’s true that it’s not as much fun to interact with people like that as it is with people who are all smiley all the time, I find that if I think to myself, “She’s not scowling at me because of anything I did – she’s just having a bad day,” their bad moods rub off on me a lot less.

    Reading this post, and especially tip #3, reminds me of all the times I’ve been approached by random strangers on the street and told to “smile.” I think this is a more common experience among women than among men, and anyone who’s had it happen to them knows how creepy it can be. Nobody owes you a fake smile, and you don’t owe one to anyone else.

  23. LMR says:

    This is one of my hot button topics. I’m not an advocate of being grumpy all the time, but I also think that having a positive attitude at all costs can sometimes be counterproductive and detrimental because you gloss over problems, repress your real feelings, or let what started as a minor situation get out of hand because you chose think “this isn’t a problem – it’s an opportuity!” It can also undermine our natural survival instincts. Do you seriously want to look for the positive in that stranger lurking in a dark alley? In some cases, yes, if your calling in life is to rescue such people. In most cases, however, keep moving!

    A plugged up toilet is not a big deal, but sometimes a situation calls for more gravitas than a dayglo smile and a good night’s sleep. Those are not going to stop the oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico. There are a lot of people along the Gulf who aren’t smiling and are losing sleep now and rightfully so. Then again, we certainly do not want everyone to throw up their hands and give up! It’s a huge crisis and there has been a dearth of leadership at many levels. Looking for the best in BP executives isn’t going to solve the crisis. A more heavy handed approach seems to be in order here.

    It’s true that bad situations can present opportunities for some individuals to use their talents and skills to bring about real change, but putting on a happy face isn’t always the answer. I don’t think that Captain Sullenberg did what he did by first painting on a “dayglow smile.” He knew the gravity of the situation and responded appropriately. Smiles came later and they were genuine.

    An excellent book on this subject is “Bright Sided” by Barbara Ehrenreich who explains, among other things, how having a positive attitude at all costs may actually be the cause of our current financial collapse (home prices can only go up, up, up right?)

    Anyway, I know that trying to make the best of a bad situation is usually the best approach, but there are times when you need to be realistic about a situation. A toddler plugging up a toilet is one thing. A teenager vandalizing the bathrooms at school is something else.

    Perhaps there could be a Positive Thinker’s Prayer like the Serenity Prayer: Lord, help me be positive and put on a smile when the problem is minor, outraged and ready to take action when it is not, and the wisdom to know the difference.

  24. Kittie says:

    The greatest thing about attitudes is that they are individually yours and you can choose which one you are using at any given point. Taking the time to check your attitude before interacting with others can save alot of grief and possibly give alot of joy. It is your choice both in what you choose and how you accept others attitude choices. Great article Trent.

  25. Systemizer says:

    Re: “painted dayglow smile”

    Smiling is overrated. You get premature wrinkles. Frowning is bad obviously. I like to relax the muscles in my face as much as possible.

    There are rewards for not smiling. I asked a stranger for her phone number on the street the other day. Her initial response was “you don’t smile.” She gave me her number anyway.

    When I don’t smile, I sense that people are more honest with me. Also people tend to laugh around me more.

    Recently I was told I have a “zen presence,” on two occasions in fact. I felt highly complimented. I attribute the feedback in part to my unsmiling face.

    A friend once told me I should smile more. My response to him: “you should smile less.”

  26. Positivity feeds off of itself. Good things come to those with positive attitudes, especially the ones who maintain them throughout adversity.

  27. J. O. says:

    By strict definition, sarcasm is intended to insult, hurt or ridicule. I think the word tends to be used more loosely than that, but it’s still too easy to think we’re being witty when we are actually being hurtful.

  28. Brittany says:

    Sarcasm: A verbal tone in which it is obvious from context that the speaker means the opposite of what he or she says.

    Insult/ridicule is only one definition.

    And I agree that smiling is overrated. I’d much rather deal with someone who is less perky than someone who is fake. Also, the best advice I ever got while traveling was to not smile. We smile too damn much in this country and it can invite negative attention sometimes.

  29. J. O. says:

    @ Brittany – You said:

    “Sarcasm: A verbal tone in which it is obvious from context that the speaker means the opposite of what he or she says.”

    You are describing irony, not sarcasm.

    This is just what I was referring to, however, when I said the word tends to be more loosely used than its true definition.

  30. Marisa says:

    This is by far one of THE BEST articles I have ever read in my entire life, and I’m a big reader! I will be featuring it in my company’s July E-Newsletter. Feel free to visit our website in a few weeks and check out how we used it! A link will be able to be viewed through our main page: https://www.firstffcu.com as well as social media pages:

    Thanks for posting this! It really added some nice energy to my day. :)

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