Positive affirmations: the benefits of talking to yourself to make you happier

Despite being a source of bad news, the internet is also flooded with ways to try to counteract that negativity.

A quick search for “inspirational” content turns up a plethora of talks, interviews and phrases aimed at making sense of difficult times.

A list of the latter typically includes things like “Imagination is more important than knowledge,” attributed to Albert Einstein, or the lyrics to Nicki Minaj’s song (which translates to) “Everybody dies, but not everybody lives.”

Self-help specialists, talk show hosts, Instagram influencers, and even former U.S. first ladies often author positive affirmations.

One such list posted on the Oprah Daily website (owned by the well-known TV host) during the darkest days of the pandemic highlighted a quote from writer Maya Angelou, reminding us that “Nothing can extinguish the flame that shines within you.”

Angelou wrote captivatingly about her experiences with racism and trauma. So her words can resonate with us even now, wherever we are in the world.

Hearing or reading these kinds of short memorable phrases can help us achieve a more positive mindset.

Whether it’s a call to action or a reminder of the values we hold most dear, affirmations can act as a counterbalance to what psychologists call rumination (repetitive patterns of negative thoughts). They do this by guiding us to focus on what matters in our lives.

How to access positive feelings

Positive emotions can be extremely powerful. Research indicates that when we are primed to feel joy, curiosity, gratitude and other types of positive feelings, we have what psychologists call “broader thought-action repertoires.”

That means we can imagine new possibilities and try new things. We become more creative and better problem solvers.

In 2011, American psychologist Martin Seligman put together what he called the PERMA model of well-being. PERMA stands for the five main elements of the model: positive emotion, engagement, relationships, meaning and achievement.

This model is a useful tool for understanding the different ways in which we can activate more positive ways of thinking.

These run the gamut from experiencing a positive emotion to becoming completely absorbed in a challenging task, creating a more loving connection with someone, trying to understand a difficult situation, or simply crossing off a list of completed tasks.

Secular prayers

Positive affirmations have the potential to affect the various elements of our well-being. They can strengthen us when we can identify with the content of a message, when it has a moral and when it is memorable.

Some can encourage us to have hope and focus on the here and now. A common saying in Alcoholics Anonymous recovery circles is “one day at a time”.

Others urge us to become fully involved in an important task: “You are more likely to modify an emotion through activity than to become active through an emotion,” said American psychologist Jerome Bruner.

Some can focus on developing positive relationships: “Really strong people lift others up. People who are really powerful bring others together,” said former U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama.

In this way, positive affirmations function like a secular version of religious or spiritual prayer. Research shows that when said aloud, prayers can be uplifting, comforting and create an attitude of hope. Similarly, reciting or singing a profound quote or song to oneself can be empowering.

Affirmations are often used to help us make sense of disappointments and complications and keep us striving to achieve our goals, like motivational self-talk.

According to researchers, people who verbally encourage themselves are more likely to perform better, be more satisfied with their jobs, and want to stay in their jobs. This process may be vital to the endurance of endurance sports athletes.

Small flashes of joy

Ultimately, it is a state of mind of intentionality that can help us manage the challenges we face with these positive aspects that we recognize. Whether we are fighting for social justice, or just trying to get by, there are often little glimmers of joy to be found in the simplest moments of life. As Aretha Franklin sang:

  • You’ve got to spread joy to the fullest
  • Bring that gloom down to a minimum
  • Have faith, otherwise pandemonium
  • May enter the scene

So look for quotes and songs that inspire you. Keep them in an easily accessible place, like your bedroom wall or a notebook you keep in your purse. And pull them out whenever you’re going through a difficult time or when you need motivation to think about the big picture, your life’s purpose.

Share them with others, either on social media or in person. Give yourself the pleasure of being part of a connected and inspired community.

And take the plunge and read them aloud. You’ll be amazed how it will make you feel more energized and hopeful. It’s exciting to know that speaking words of hope and encouragement can help you – and those around you – on your life’s journey.