Positivity seems useful.
We all want to be happy, so it would be logical that positive thinking is a good idea. But is there any science to support that?
For example, are happy people more successful?
Or do you have to be successful to become happy? What comes first? And what about negative thinking: are there disadvantages to that? And above all: what can you do about it? Are there ways to become a happier and healthier person, both physically and mentally?
One of the people doing research into this is
a researcher in positive psychology at the University of North Carolina. What does she say?
What negative thoughts do to your brain
Suppose you walk through the jungle and suddenly
there’s a tiger jumping on the path in front of you.
Your brain will then register a negative emotion – in this case fear. And then you flee. The rest of the world doesn’t matter: you are fully focused on the tiger and the fear and how you can get away. In other words:
negative emotions narrow your mind and focus your thoughts
. At the same time you can climb a tree or take a stick. But your brain ignores all those options because they seem irrelevant when there is a tiger right in front of you. So this is a
instinct if you want to save your body and your members.
But in our modern society
we shouldn’t worry much about meeting tigers in the wilderness. The problem is that your brain is still programmed to respond in the same way to negative emotions: by excluding the rest of the world and limiting the options you see around you.
For example, when you argue with someone,
your anger and other emotions make you think of nothing else. Or when you are extremely stressed about everything you need to get done today, you may find it hard to really start, because you get paralyzed by the length of your to-do list. Or when you feel bad about not doing sports or not eating healthy, you might just think about how little willpower you have and how lazy and unmotivated you are. Each time your brain shuts you off from the outside world and focuses on the negative emotions of fear, anger and stress. Just like it did with the tiger.
What positive thoughts do to your brain
In an experiment divided
its participants in five groups
and she showed each group a different video clip. The first two groups got clips that created positive emotions. Group 1 saw images that aroused feelings of joy and group 2 saw images that aroused feelings of contentment. Group 3 was the control group: they saw neutral images that did not evoke any significant emotion. The last two groups saw images that triggered negative emotions. Group 4 saw images that evoked feelings of fear and group 5 saw images that evoked feelings of anger.
Afterwards, each participant was asked to
to imagine a situation in which a similar feeling came to mind, and to write down what they would do. Each participant was given a sheet of paper with 20 lines beginning with the sentence ‘
Participants who saw images of fear and anger wrote the least answers and came up with it
number of possible answers. The participants who saw images of joy and contentment wrote
that they could take.
In other words:
when you experience positive emotions like joy, contentment and love, you see more possibilities in your life and your mind opens up to more options.
But that was just the beginning.
How you develop your skills through positive thinking
The benefits of positive emotions do not stop
after a few minutes. In fact, the greatest benefit of positive emotions is that you develop increased skills that you can use further in life. A child playing outdoors, hanging from branches and romping around with friends develops the ability to move athletically, to communicate with others and to explore the world around them.
The positive emotion of the game and the fun can thus be used to develop skills that are useful and valuable in everyday life.
These skills last much longer than the emotions at the beginning.
If positive thinking is so useful for developing valuable skills, how can you get more out of it in your life?
How do you increase the happiness in your life?
What can you do to make positive emotions
and take advantage of it? Anything that evokes feelings of joy, contentment and love in you is good. You probably already know which things work for you. Maybe it’s playing a musical instrument, or spending time with a certain person.
three scientifically substantiated ideas
Recent research has found that people who
daily only 10 minutes of meditation
show more positive emotions than people who don’t. These people show an increased level of mindfulness, of purposefulness or usefulness in their lives, and also show fewer disease symptoms.
Again, research indicates that people who
write down their positive experiences on a daily basis
feel better and be less sick.
Provide time to play in your life. You do plan weekly meetings; why not put ‘time to play’ in your agenda? Time to explore, experiment and have fun? Surely being happy is at least as important as your weekly meeting on Tuesday?
Allow yourself to laugh and enjoy the benefits of positive emotions.
Happiness versus success: what comes first?
Happiness is the condition for success and also the result.
You can get into an upward spiral: happy people develop new skills, those skills lead to new success, and that in turn leads to more happiness. And so the process repeats itself.
find ways to develop happiness and positive emotions in your life. Whether it’s by meditating, writing or playing or something else. Your brain does the rest!