Human brains tend to dwell on the negative—a leftover survival skill to save oneself from a hungry predator in the wild. Learning to see the positive side, however, is an even greater benefit. It also comes with a host of physical and mental advantages, including greater feelings of peace and relaxation.
Keep on the Sunny Side
It’s possible for a person to control his thought patterns and even make positive thoughts a habit. The benefits go beyond a happier state of mind—the ability to improve personal outlook improves a person’s health and increases a person’s positive interactions with others. Finding ways to be positive and recognize the best of every situation may seem difficult at first, but there are several techniques that make it easier to maintain happy thoughts.
Finding a happy thought during everyday life is one accomplishment, but it doesn’t compare with the monumental task of seeing the good in tragic events. When someone loses her job, faces the death of a spouse or lives through a house fire, it’s nearly impossible to see hope in the midst of tragedy. Dwelling on negative thoughts during a stressful time, however, only prolongs misery. These negative thought cycles also make a person more prone to addiction in the following ways:1) a person may be more likely to turn to substances as a way to escape and 2) a person’s brain may be more primed to become addicted to substances because of the damage caused by negative thoughts.
Learning how to see the good in life, no matter how bad things get, is more than a survival skill. It’s a tool for staying sober and protection against mental illnesses, such as depression and anxiety. In the movie Mary Poppins laughter is so contagious it lifts the main characters literally off the ground. Research shows positive expressions, such as smiles and laughter, are equally contagious. The book, Words Can Change Your Brain, explores the ways a person can rewire his brain circuitry by understanding how to meditate and form authentic attachments to others. For example, anyone can come up with a genuine smile or laughter by bringing it on internally—just think of some wonderful event or favorite person and the smile will naturally appear. Once the smile is on a person’s face, others benefit by catching a dose of happiness.
As brain research becomes more sophisticated, many researchers are moving beyond the idea that a person’s brain is static. To counteract stress, say before giving a speech, it’s good to take a few moments to yawn, breathe deeply and stretch to relax all the muscles in the body. This process dramatically changes a person’s feelings and thoughts. It also puts a person in the right state of mind to come up with his deepest personal value. Knowing his most important value, gives a person the ability to find deep satisfaction and meaning in life. To find this value, take a pen and some paper, and become deeply relaxed. Next, jot down all the words that come to mind. Ask the question several times, emphasizing different words: deepest, personal and value. At the end of the process, circle the word with the most meaning. Whenever negative thoughts become overwhelming or stress takes hold, meditating on this word leads to greater peace and contentment.
There are other methods for changing brain circuitry, such as the process that goes into forming a habit. Habits are a prime example of the brain’s ability to turn actions and thoughts into scripts that play without conscious thought. One example of this is the way a person can drive from home to work and not even remember most of the drive—this occurs because the trip is a habit. A person breaks an old undesirable habit by forming a new, stronger habit.
Form a new habit by taking advantage of a three-step process: cue, routine and reward. To use this process to make positive thoughts a habit, think of any negative thought as a cue. For example, in response to the thought, “No one likes me,” think of a positive fact, like, “Mary smiled at me this morning and really listened to my story about my weekend.” The process of countering a negative thought with a positive fact is the routine or the desired behavior. The routine of coming up with positive facts leads to more positive feelings, such as hope and contentment, which act as the reward. Taking the time to think of positive facts will eventually become automatic and the routine of thinking positively will eventually crowd out the old habit of negative thoughts.
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 Alvord, Mary K., Davidson, Karina W., Kelly, Jennifer F., McGuiness, Kevin M. and Tovian, Steven. (2016). Understanding Chronic Stress. American Psychological Association. Retrieved Feb. 14, 2016 from http://www.apa.org/helpcenter/understanding-chronic-stress.aspx.
 Newberg, Andrew and Waldman, Mark. (2012). The 8 Key Elements of Highly Effective Speech. Retrieved Feb. 14, 2016 from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/words-can-change-your-brain/201207/the-8-key-elements-highly-effective-speech.
 Newberg, Andrew and Waldman, Mark. (2012). The Most Powerful Word in Your Life. Psychology Today. Retrieved Feb. 14, 2016 from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/words-can-change-your-brain/201207/the-most-powerful-word-in-your-life.
 Duhigg, Charles. (2012). The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business. Retrieved Feb. 14, 2016 from http://charlesduhigg.com/books/the-power-of-habit/.
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