Positive thinking is certainly not a new term but it’s interesting to understand how many of us actually employ it in everyday life. Due to messages from our parents and society as we grew up, to the stresses of today’s world and the sheer wealth of negative information blasting out from media news outlets and platforms everywhere, there’s little wonder some of us automatically and unconsciously view our life and environment in a negative fashion.
How many times have you thought, “If I lose weight/find my soul-mate/win that job or promotion, etc. I’ll be happy”? The trouble with this way of thinking is, when you lose weight/meet your soul-mate/land that job or promotion, your brain just moves the goalposts towards the next thing you think you need to be happy.
Of course, life tends to throw things at us that test our resilience. If your health was in jeopardy, or your relationship failing, you’re likely to find it harder to be positive – but it’s been scientifically proven that we can choose to be happier. 50 percent of our happiness is genetically predetermined, and 10% is due to life circumstances; however, the remaining 40 percent is the result of choice – the choice to think positively, or to only focus on perceived negatives.
Thinking positively has a chemical effect on our brain, releasing serotonin and decreasing cortisol whenever we choose to focus on the things that are making us, and can make us, happy. Our brains are designed to be receptive to such stimulus, and function at peak capacity whenever we feel good.
Behavioural scientists have shown that not only are optimistic people more successful, persistent and resilient, but that they also live longer. Other benefits a happy brain brings include:
- A happier, richer and more fulfilled life
- Good relationships
- Better health habits
- Stronger immune systems
- A fuller social life
Conversely, negative thinking also has its own effects. Negative thinking slows our brains and makes it more difficult to focus, process thoughts and find solutions. The fear of a negative outcome has been proven to decrease activity in our cerebellums and to affect our left temporal lobes, the consequences of which decrease our ability to process new information or find creative solutions, as well as knocking our mood, memory and impulse control. If, therefore, we found ourselves in a stressful situation, by only focusing on the negatives, we’d be kept in the cycle/situation far longer than if we chose to weigh up the positives of our experience.
Those that tend to be continually pessimistic view good events happening to them as luck and passing phenomena, and ‘bad’ events as more permanent and due to personal failings. They’re also more likely to:
- Perform worse at school and work
- Have rockier relationships
- Be depressed than optimists – up to eight times more
- Die sooner than optimists
The science aside, for these reasons alone, it’s worth changing the way we think. As with any new habit, if we make the conscious effort to alter or adapt our perception of the world around us and how we view daily events, it will eventually become an automatic, or subconscious, action.
According to Shawn Achor, CEO of Good Think Inc., the majority of our long-term happiness is not predicted by external influences but on how our brains process those external influences, and the world in general. By changing our formula for happiness and success, he says, we can affect reality.
He states: “Only 25 percent of job success is down to intellect; 75 percent is due to our optimism levels, our social support, and our ability to see stress as a challenge and not as a threat or something to fear. The way we view the world and the associations we make are entirely within our control.”
Imagine a brain as a computer circuit board. If we begin transmitting positive thoughts, more connections will be made and more circuitry will light up. Conversely, if we take a pessimistic view, initial connections will fail to meet crucial electrodes and much of the circuit board will remain inactive; thoughts run out of energy and are cut dead without reaching their full potential.
Next week, we’ll talk about how we can retrain our brains and rewire our neural circuitry. There are a multitude of behaviours and things we can try to alter our perceptions. The more you ask your brain to do, the more cortical space it sets up to handle new tasks; thinking positive thoughts boosts our brains on a physical, as well as an intellectual, level. To reach our full potential, to live longer, and to have a more successful, fulfilled life, happy brains are key.
If you’d like to watch Shawn’s excellent TED Talk on happiness at work click the link below