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uncovering the difference between cheerful and positive

Over the course of my life, I've spent some time with people who initially strike me as incredibly positive. They are always laughing, always quick to strike up a conversation with a stranger, always ready to smile and wave, or offer up a story of interest. These are the people that, on the surface, seem incredibly positive. They are upbeat, active, smiling, and they seem to be beaming with energy. But when I take a closer look at some of these people, I have to wonder: are they really positive? Is it positivity that they project -- or is it simply cheerfulness? 

Those who know me well probably wouldn't describe me as "cheerful." I'm not the type of person to strike up a cheery conversation with a stranger, and I'm generally not going around looking like the kind of person you'd want to strike up a conversation with. I have my cheerful moments, but I've come to terms with the idea that being a positive person doesn't necessarily mean spreading cheer everywhere one goes (though I must acknowledge that this would be a very nice thing to do and it's something I'm working on personally). 

It seems to me that there's a discrepancy between being positive and being cheerful. Being the nerdy girl I am, I thought I'd check out what the good ol' dictionary had to say about the words "cheerful" and "positive," and see if there really is a difference between the two words -- two words that are often used interchangeably. Here's what I found: 


cheerful: spreading good spirits; likely to dispel gloom or worry

positive: emphasizing what is good or laudable; moving towards progress


Though I can see that there are similarities between the words, but there are some distinctions -- one of the most important being the difference between what is internal and what is external. Being cheerful means giving out a cheerful attitude and surrounding a situation and the people around you with cheer, while being positive means adjusting one's internal outlook to see what is good and, after doing that, choosing to move forward in a beneficial direction without dwelling on the negative. 

Being cheerful is great and can do a lot of good, but if you really want to live a positive life, you have to focus on having a positive attitude. I've seen first hand that cheeriness can be a cover-up for what's really going on beneath the surface, but positivity is an internal belief that allows one to focus on the good in any situation. Positivity can, but doesn't always, lead to to cheerfulness. Cheerfulness can be, but isn't always, a sign of a positive outlook. The next time you find yourself in a situation that's tough and you're trying to make the best of it, ask yourself this very vital question: 


Am I being positive or am I being cheerful? 


You can certainly be both -- and I applaud that, since it's something I struggle with -- but it's essential to realize that just being cheerful is not always enough. Cheerfulness can be a projection of a positive attitude, but it does not always equal a positive attitude. After thinking about the distinction between these two, if you have come to realize you might just be cheerful and not positive, check out the requirements I've listed below for being a positive person. 


5 Must-Haves for Being Positive

1. Emphasize what is good. Being positive means focusing on the good in any and all situations. It doesn't mean ignoring the bad or downplaying reality. It means recognizing what is positive and emphasizing it instead of dwelling on what is negative. 

2. Seek improvement. Positive people don't settle for what's happening around them if what's happening isn't positive. If a positive person finds him or herself in a tough situation, s/he seeks to improve it. That desire to make progress is essential for a positive attitude. 

3. Be constructive. When talking to others (or even to themselves), positive people don't focus on destructive comments or thoughts. Instead, they are constructive, giving themselves or others ideas on how to improve things, rather than dwelling on what's not working. 

4. Keep an open mind. Positive people don't close their minds to thoughts or ideas. Keeping an open mind is vital to living life with a positive outlook because it allows an individual to experience new things and to keep his or her eyes open to good things in life. 

5. Share your opinions. Being positive doesn't mean shouting positivity from the rooftops, but it means sharing opinions and ideas with others. When asked about a situation or for an opinion, a positive person will look for the good and then focus on that aspect, offering constructive advice when necessary.


These are just my personal must-haves for being positive, and I'm sure there are many other ways one could define a positive attitude. However, the point of this post and of that list is this: if you want to live a positive life, you must learn not just to be a cheerful person, but to be a positive one. It's great to have a cheerful person around, but if you're going to be a cheerful person, make sure it's because your cheerfulness is a reflection of a deep-rooted positive attitude, not a facade to cover up any negativity brimming beneath the surface.

Sadly, some of the most cheerful people I know are those in the most pain, those focused inwardly on the negative instead of the positive, while putting on a happy face for the world. It's for these people I write this post. If you are the person -- always smiling, always happy -- who is really hurting deep down, consider this post and consider looking deeper to develop a positive outlook on life. A shiny, pretty outward appearance will go along way with other people, but if you really want to be positive, you have to consider what type of mindset you have when no one else is around. 

Being positive takes a lot of work and a positive attitude is not always easy to adopt (believe me, I know this from first hand experience!). However, it is something every single person is capable of. It's a choice and one you must choose it for yourself. It's not as difficult to choose cheerfulness, so that's the choice people often make. But it's always up to you. You can have both, but if you want lasting positivity in your life, you must have an underlying positive attitude. Though it might not be easy for everyone else to see, I hope you now know that there is a difference between being cheerful and being positive. 


Are you living with a positive attitude,
or are you just being cheerful? 

Do you agree with the distinctions I've made
between cheerfulness and positivity?  



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thanks for this gentle (and positive :)) reminder that authenticity & honesty is key. i SO value and honor your messages, Dani.

I like this post. It's quite thoughtful. I am positive, but I am almost never cheerful. Perhaps this is because I'm an introvert. Everything is directed inward.

Lisa - You're welcome! It's definitely so important to be honest -- and not just with others. Being honest with ourselves and recognizing the root of our thoughts and reactions is so essential for living a positive life.

Vi - Thank you! I am a lot like you -- positive, but not as cheerful -- and it might be for the same reason -- because I am an introvert. Thanks for your comment!

I can be cheerful and cover up a lot of pain. I prefer to be genuine and honest. That is something that I try to achieve each day. Feeling sad is a natural thing but feeling self-pity is not a positive behavior. I strive for the positive and optimistic even in the midst of sadness.

Syd - Many people use cheerfulness to cover up something, which is why I really believe it's not the same as having a positive attitude (though it can go hand in hand with being positive). You've made a great point about how some emotions with negative associations (like sadness) are important and normal and, for that reason, it's not good to cover those types of emotions with false cheerfulness. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this topic!

Great post. You've really given me alot to think about. I've adopted a positive attitude and outlook and it definately isn't easy. But it is worth it. It has given me cheer. I try to be honest with my feelings. If I'm sad I don't plaster a fake smile on my face. But my positive attitude keeps me from being a total downer:)

Dandy - Thank you! I'm glad this was a thought-provoking post for you. Having a positive attitude can be very, very hard at times, which is not always the same for being cheerful. Cheerfulness comes easier, but it's not always an honest reflection of one's true emotions. To have a positive attitude, it's important to acknowledge both the good and bad things in life and then choose to focus on the good things!

Great post! In order to be positive,you must be positively present.Because when you make the present moment the focal point of your life. The ability to enjoy what you do and the quality of your life increases drastically. Therefor positive outlook becomes more natural.

I just love your blog...

Derrick - Thanks for your comment! You're very right about the fact that staying in the present moment makes it much easier to have a positive outlook. When you're not worrying about the future or dwelling on the past, it's so much easier to be positive!

Dawn - Thank you! I'm so glad you like it. Thanks for stopping by and for leaving a comment!

Awesome article Dani! I never really look at positivity and cheerfulness that way before. A positive attitude is definetly internal. Another way you can tell if someone is positive is, if you notice your internal attitude starts to change overtime when you are with this person. Thanks for sharing!

Vic - Thank you! I'd never really thought about the difference between the two before either, but once I did, I realized that they are actually pretty distinct. Good point about how a positive person really helps to make other people more positive!

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