Everyone in my life knows not to talk to me for the first 30 minutes I'm awake in the mornings. And sometimes the last hour before I go to bed. To be honest, sometimes the middle of the day isn't such a great time, either.
Science has shown it is possible to maintain an optimistic frame of mind even in these difficult situations, and even the most negative people can "rewire" their brains to focus on happiness and positive thoughts more often.
Shawn Achor, founder and chief executive of Good Think Inc. and a leading expert on human potential, says the key is that we must stop thinking that happiness can be achieved only after we've reached a goal such as a new job or a promotion. Instead, Achor says research in psychology and neuroscience shows that happiness is what leads to success — not the other way around.
For example, if you're hunting for a job and feel negative as time passes, then your thoughts become mired in those thoughts and you begin to drag through your days.
You see fewer possibilities as your brain underperforms in its negative state. And even if you do land a job interview? Your unhappiness and negativity can be perceived by others, Achor says, and your chances for landing the job plunge.
But if you work on having more positive thoughts, "then your brain becomes more resilient in the face of challenges and you see more possibilities," Achor says, leading to more opportunities for success in finding a job.
Achor, author of "The Happiness Advantage" (Crown Business, $25) emphasizes that this "positive psychology" does not say someone should be happy to be unemployed but rather encourages those going through a difficult time to put aside bad thoughts and instead think about what actions are open to them to make themselves feel better and have a more positive outlook.
Some of the ways a person unhappy at work or now unemployed can achieve a more positive outlook:
• Do something that makes you happy. Called a "happiness booster," it can be anything from writing down three things a day that make you grateful to exercising.
He says that one of the quickest ways to get your brain on a positive path is by sending a two-sentence e-mail expressing gratitude to another person.
"It stops your brain from being paralyzed by the challenges you have. Your brain can't do two things at once, so it can't scan the world for the negative when you're using it to express what you're grateful for," he says.
• Take control. "Positive psychology is about being a rational optimist. We don't expect people to be Pollyannaish, but you can focus on concrete action that is within your control," he says.
For example, instead of sending out big batches of resumes in one day — many for work that a job seeker may not feel confident about — send one resume for a job where the person feels success is a possibility.
"If you keep goals small and manageable and very concrete, then the brain short-circuits that emotional hijacking that comes when you feel overwhelmed," he says.
• Change your viewpoint. If you hate your boss, for example, don't compare your situation to a workplace with a good boss.
Instead, compare your situation to someone who doesn't have a job, Achor says.
"We've found in our studies of companies with bad bosses that while some of the employees were miserable, others found ways to be optimistic," he says. "The difference is that the optimistic people found other things to be grateful for."
• Seek social interactions. If you've got a rotten manager, find ways to invest more in your relationship with colleagues, he says.
"Social support is the single greatest predictor of our happiness and success during a time of challenge," Achor says. "So a social investment can be an antidote to a bad boss."
He also suggests spending more time with family and friends and keeping a photograph of loved ones nearby to remind you of those positive feelings.
Achor says that for many of us, negativity is our default position.
But our brains can be rewired by spending 21 straight days focusing on positive aspects in our lives, he says. At the end of that time, you will find that positive thoughts come more easily and quickly, instead of negative ones.
As a result, you will become more successful and productive, Achor says.
"The key is that we're not saying that bad things — such as not having a job or a bad boss — are good things," he says. "But given that you're facing such a challenge, you can use a positive brain to get you through."
Do you have ways you get through tough times?