How can we make life interesting

Positive psychology: more confidence in everyday life

Many people focus too much on the negative aspects of their life, says psychologist Muriel Böttger. And thereby take the chance of a more fulfilling existence. But how can we maintain courage on gray days?

GEOkompakt: Ms. Böttger, positive thinking is an important factor for a happy life. Can we actually improve our satisfaction with just our minds?

Muriel Boettger: Research on this is still relatively new. For a long time there was a lack of scientific studies to give a serious answer to this question. But for some years now, psychologists have been using extensive surveys to investigate the effectiveness of a positive lifestyle. Then it turns out that positive thinking alone is no guarantee for a fulfilled life, not a panacea. But at the same time it offers a tremendously great opportunity for more joy and confidence.

How does positive thinking work? Should we talk about life more beautifully than it is?

Anyone who thinks positively sees the world and actually always a little more advantageously. Above all, the ability to assess one's own potential very positively and to see temporary events in defeat has been shown to increase psychological well-being. But no one who is going through a serious crisis or going through life as a notorious curmudgeon is helped by telling them: "Look at it positively!". So it's not about banning all negative thoughts and feelings, all pain, worries and fears from everyday life. Rather, the aim is to widen the view, to take a differentiated look at the situation. For example, to appreciate what you have already achieved instead of concentrating solely on what you still have to achieve. For many, the focus is extremely narrowed on the negative, they walk through life with blinkers, so to speak, and above all perceive the burdensome.

And see yourself as a victim of fate?

We all feel like victims now and then, blaming others for our poor health - for example, the boss because he makes our work difficult. Occasionally taking on the role of victim is not a problem, for a short time there is even something exonerating: After all, I can turn the buck off me and take a rest. But whoever remains in this state suffers. I therefore try to convey to my clients how important it is to regain control over their own room for maneuver. To ask yourself: What is it that I can do? Where is my influence? How can I intervene to improve my situation? Because in the end it is important to recognize: First and foremost, it is I who bears responsibility for my life. And I am able to make changes.

Who is unhappy has not tried hard enough?

No. The way to go is not to pressurize and stress yourself every day to become a more confident person. There is even a danger in this: some motivational speakers proclaim that you just have to persuade yourself often and vehemently enough that you are successful, beautiful, talented, determined - then you can achieve anything in life. This form of turbo confidence can plunge people into disaster, because the height of the fall is extremely high. If the hoped-for consequences of the positive worldview do not materialize soon, those affected will only feel confirmed in their conviction that they are a good-for-nothing. One cannot and should not force oneself to be optimistic. But it is possible to use room for interpretation in thinking in order to look at things differently. For example, by sharpening your eye for your own possibilities, for what is feasible. This is a central concern of positive psychology: to strengthen our self-confidence.

Do ill-seekers tend to dramatize?

This is true of some. Those who focus on the negative and the destructive often exaggerate it. But it is just as bad to idealize the positive, the euphoric. It's always about a balance, about perceiving the whole picture. Life is made up of ups and downs, sometimes we're in a better mood, sometimes worse. It is important that all feelings are justified. Not just the joy, the surprise, the love. Also the anger, the contempt, the doubt. I therefore encourage my clients not to lock away the darker emotions. But to affirm it in principle. And to be aware: where do they actually come from? Why am I often so annoyed with myself or with others? What is the good thing about emotion, what does it teach me?

How is that helpful?

Quite a few people are at the mercy of their feelings and have little distance to themselves. And therefore often act impulsively, inappropriately, rashly - with the result that they sometimes stand in the way of their happiness. An example: a colleague writes a disrespectful email. Anger rises, you would like to shoot back immediately. A permanent feud would be the result. However, if we deal more with our negative emotions, we manage to keep a certain distance from them. A thought can then be shifted from the observer's perspective between stimulus and reaction, for example: Oh, I already know this feeling of anger, how interesting that it grabs me again now, luckily it will pass. Better not let the situation escalate.

So should I suppress my anger?

By no means! But you don't give anger the power to determine your actions, you keep control. With this slightly distant attitude to yourself, the little excitement can be better endured - as well as longer phases in which you feel bad. In positive psychology one speaks of resilience: This means our psychological resistance to the challenges of life. Resilient people know very well that lows are normal - and what gives them the strength to get back on their feet.

Intervention - the MeAcademy

Increase your own self-confidence and thus improve the quality of life - Muriel Böttger developed the MeAcademy with the aim of enabling as many people as possible to experience this development.

In a seven-part video course, the participants get to know scientifically based exercises that aim to strengthen self-confidence and achieve greater life satisfaction. An important element of this is feeling grateful.

Try it out: take a few minutes over the next few days to write down three things in the evening for which you are currently grateful. Science has shown that this exercise makes you happier after just a week - and the positive effects last for up to six months.

With the voucher code "GEO10SELBSTVERTUEN" GEO readers receive 10 euros discount on the course. The MeAcademy is a project by G + J Innovation GmbH, a subsidiary of the Gruner & Jahr publishing house, to which GEO also belongs.

Can humor be a support?

Absolutely. Humor is a resource that tremendously strengthens our psychological powers. Especially when I can laugh at myself, maybe about forgetting my text during a lecture or grabbing a chocolate cake even though I wanted to eat healthily. The effect: In such situations full of stress or anger, the tension evaporates in no time. And I'm much more flexible to find solutions. Humor is a creative quality per se, and if you look at existence with a wink, you will find it easier to deal constructively with problematic situations and to look more positively into the future. A good piece of advice is therefore: stop being so strict on yourself!

How do you do that?

Many of us tend to be their biggest critic. Often this voice whispers in the background that criticizes and condemns, that devalues, seeks social comparison with others - and then criticizes that we are less productive, interesting, lovable, successful. Here, too, I encourage my clients to take on the role of observer, in a kind of inner dialogue. Let's say someone complains for hours about missing a train. He should ask himself: would I be just as hard on my best friend in a comparable situation? Probably he would never throw him at his head: “What are you stupid to have missed the train!” There is no reason to be harder with yourself than with others. Striving for a positive worldview does not mean wanting to do everything perfectly, but rather: finding a better way of dealing with the rough edges of oneself. Ideally, this is how the realization matures: I, too, am only human, I also make mistakes occasionally. I can deal with it calmly.

How long does it take to become an optimist?

Naturally, this is very different. What I can say: perseverance pays off. I once accompanied a woman who had slipped into a serious life crisis due to a serious illness. Her husband separated from her and financially she was left with nothing. Suddenly she was a single parent, seriously ill and still had to move on. Quite clearly: In a situation like this, saying “It's not so bad!” Does not help. It took several years for my client to fully overcome this crisis. But in the course of time she really blossomed, developed a completely new attitude, realized: Life has more in store for me than sadness and annoyance. Her self-confidence and her zest for life were even greater after the low than before.

What gave your client courage?

In such situations, it is advisable to take small steps. Even simple exercises can help to get into another mode, for example through meditation, keeping a diary, reflecting together. Sometimes the point is simply to feel: What is important today? Which need is currently acute and how can we meet it? Which emotion currently wants to be lived? Tears, for example, can and should flow, which also releases some physical tension. Then I and the woman - after her health was better again - looked at hurdles that initially seemed insurmountable, developed positive perspectives: What do you need to be financially on your own two feet? What is preventing you from gaining ground in your job? What would a future look like in which your goals were achieved? And created an awareness that a difficult situation - no matter how devastating it may be - can always be a valuable, affirmative experience.

Do you have setbacks?

Yes sure. Sometimes there is one step forward and two backward. That is why it is so important to give happiness a chance again and again. To continue to open up to small experiences of achievement that can be built upon again. To create little rituals that are good for you, even if it is a pleasant full bath in the evening. One should not underestimate such seemingly trivial adjusting screws, because first and foremost we become optimists not only through positive thinking, but also through positive experiences. Encouraging, inspiring, motivating experiences that almost every day has in store - if only we sharpen our awareness of them.

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One last tip on how we can bring more confidence into our everyday lives?

Train your gratitude! Gratitude is a central part of positive psychology. I also refer to it as a charging station for our happiness. Because it helps us to find the good in life, to expand our focus on the valuable. Our brain is designed to store primarily negative and threatening things and, in case of doubt, to overestimate them. But those who are grateful for the small moments, encounters, and insights in life actively direct their perception towards the beautiful.
A small, effective exercise, for example, is to record three such moments in a happiness or gratitude diary in the evening. Studies show that anyone who only practices this for seven days in a row is still happier six months later than before! This shows that a simple ritual can help us go through life more satisfied. And a positive worldview becomes a new habit.