When it comes to mental health, it all begins by the attitude you choose to display to the world around you. Furthering this point, it is important to embrace that human attitude is a choice, meaning that each one of us has the ability to decide what attitude we want to project to the world. Right now, you can walk outside and decide to smile, frown, or project any kind of emotion you want — but it is important to note that the world will respond in a congruent state to the attitude you display. By choosing to stand upright and confident, combined with inviting eye contact and a warm smile, you will more likely receive those same qualities in return from the people you meet. Conversely, by choosing to slouch and frown you will soon witness the same qualities in return, or worse yet, people simply won’t hang around very long in your company. These findings are important to note, especially as they apply to mental health and wellness.
The world is a mirror
Psychology studies have consistently shown that humans regularly adjust their mood and affect to the company they keep, for better or for worse. When we choose to smile and genuinely engage with others, we soon see our company begin to reciprocate and offer the same in return, allowing our mental health to improve. This dynamic is important as both parties benefit by displaying a positive affect, boosting endorphins and optimism along the way. Sadly, we can also bring others down and thereby confirm our own inadequacy by simply not appearing interested in others. In these examples, the world mirrors back the same disinterest we display, and often this experience only confirms that we really shouldn’t be very happy and our mental health suffers as a result.
When I teach psychology courses I often use a training video that really illustrates the point about the power of attitude. In the first scene, a woman is shown walking through a park by herself clearly sad and dejected (slouching body language, eyes looking at the ground, etc). Soon a male jogger passes by, and upon recognizing the woman he emphatically says hello and how nice it is to see the woman again. Unfortunately, the woman does not respond with the same enthusiasm, and in fact barely responds at all. After a few awkward moments, the man politely says he has to go and jogs away, leaving the woman even more sad and dejected when she says to herself “there, I blew it again, nobody ever wants to spend time in my company!” The problem with her self-assessment, as you might have guessed, is that the attitude she projected quickly zapped the jogger’s positive attitude and prompted him to cut the encounter short, furthering the cycle of depression in the woman with her faulty self-appraisal that she simply isn’t interesting to others.
Fortunately, the training video offers a second scenario, using the same woman walking through the park but this time she walks upright and smiles. The jogger again runs up to her, but this time his surprise is met with her similarly inviting warm enthusiasm. The two then extend warm pleasantries, converse for a few minutes, and as the jogger departs the woman is left smiling and excited to continue on with her day. In this example, the woman’s friendliness and warmth created and entirely different exchange, and the positive interaction improved her mental health as a result. No drugs or therapy needed, she simply decided to smile and engage and received the same positive qualities in return.
Life is not easy
Some might argue that while it is possible for humans to change their attitude in a positive direction, it isn’t always easy to do so. And to that point I agree! The truth is that when it comes to human happiness, health, and productivity, there really are few shortcuts and/or “easy” routes to go. But if the goal is to improve mental health and the overall quality of your life, starting with your own attitude adjustment is a much easier and safer way to go compared to ingesting a variety of psychotropic medications and/or embarking upon more rigorous and potentially dangerous life endeavors. It is important that we remember that most happy and productive people work at it, and that they don’t just fall out of bed and experience success. So the real question here is how bad do you want change, and are you willing to take the simplest and safest first step by adjusting your own attitude?
While it may not always be easy to smile and display a positive attitude, it is possible. The great news about choosing a positive attitude is that it has a powerful effect on the people you meet, as they will be more likely to offer their positive attitude in return. Why take unnecessary risks using prescription drugs when you can dramatically improve your mental health by making important attitude choices each day? Attitude projection is important as it not only helps you feel better, but it invites your company to do the same in return, all leading to better self-esteem and overall mental health.