You’re Feeling so despondent, heartbroken. You may have just lost a loved one, your job, caught up in a negative situation or negative people. Been a victim of abuse or an attack, the list can go on and on.
When you are in the depth of these negative events, feelings all the self-help books and gurus that go on about the power of positive thinking, seems more to be like wishing thinking, pie in the sky stuff, rather than actual practical advice.
So is there any actual evidence or scientific basis to the power of positive thinking? Does a developing a positive outlook on life and life’s events actually improve your health?
Having delved into the power of positive thinking more deeply, recent studies have discovered that positive thinking is even more powerful than any of the ‘gurus’ have been giving it credit.
What Is Positive Thinking?
Many people whom have become critical in regards to the power of positive thinking, may say that it is a naïve way of looking at life and the world. That people whom take on positive thinking refuse to see the facts, to see how hard life really is. Often these critical people will use the term, “Life is hard and then you just die”, “What’s it all for?
On the other hand psychologists and other health professionals working with people to improve their mind body connection having studied this subject in depth and seeing the benefits with their clients when bringing about the changes from negative thoughts to positive ones, disagree strongly. Finding that there is no myth involved here, that people’s lives, health and outcomes definitely improve.
Becoming familiar with positive thinking and bringing the processes into place, it is far removed from any naïve way of looking at life or burying one’s head in the sand. It is about learning to face life’s challenges in positive and constructive way. Learning to grow and move forward from negative experiences, developing a deep understanding that there is only one person whom can make a positive difference to our life and that is you.
Learning to live in the moment, to be able to see the things that are not right, harmful and so on, but understanding that it is about the incremental change made within you. Adapting positive processes to overcome negative experiences.
Studies into the field of positive psychology has found looking at these studies from a scientific approach has found these surprising revelations:
- Happiness is the cause of positive outcomes in life, not the result.
- Happy people tend to have deep religious or spiritual beliefs.
- Wealth does not bring happiness, but using one’s wealth to benefit others does contribute to personal happiness.
- Kindness provides a more definite path to happiness than self indulgence or pleasure seeking
- Positive Thinking leads to Happiness and is a “Skill” that can be learnt.
The Neuroscience of Positive Thinking
More recent studies in brain imaging and other tools of neuroscience, bring into alignment and agree with the positive findings of Dr. Dacher Keltner of the University of California at Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Centre. As are a growing number of psychologists working with the behaviour patterns within human beings, that as humans, you are actually “hard wired” to be happy and compassionate. So that when you allow negativity to override this, is the main causative factor of unhappiness, negativity and depression.
It has been argued by Dr. Keltner, Darwin that sympathy is our greatest instinct”, this being the very key to your survival both personally and collectively speaking.
How is this known?
Brain imaging devices have the ability to pinpoint areas of the brain that become active when we are engaging in a specific activity or feeling a particular emotion. When you have feelings of compassion an area of the brain “lights up”, this is directly connected to cerebral networks that release a powerful hormone known as oxytocin. Often called the “love hormone”, oxytocin is associated with your bonding instincts. Whether these instincts are sexual, parental, religious or cultural. The most important thing to know here is that if you are wanting to cultivate positive thinking into your life, oxytocin is the hormone that makes you feel happy. This can be produced with or without any external element or process of love, just simply by being kind to both yourself and others.
Looking at elements of fear that can be associated with negative thinking and behaviours, the amygdala is a small organ in the brain that is responsible for triggering fear. During times of normal operation this is an invaluable tool for survival that is responsible for the release of adrenaline and other chemicals that allow you to react appropriately when in immediate danger.
The problem in modern society is that you are constantly being bombarded with frightening news reports and media negativity. Alarm bells come into play for instance when you are told that there is going to be a downturn in the economy, causing alarm, it also brings about a call to action. When you are unable to take positive action, this results in stress and anxiety. A Good night’s sleep will help (oxytocin, dopamine and other healing chemicals to be released during the hours of sleep), however when you wake up in the morning, once again you are reminded of any “crisis” that may be occurring. So if you haven’t cultivated some positive thought processes prior to bedtime and of course throughout the day, you are going to be filled with anxiety and negativity once again. So as you can see if you haven’t incorporated positive ways of dealing with all of this, you will encounter a fatalistic sense of despair.
How to Cultivate Positive Thinking
Neuroscientists have identified the prefrontal cortex (the area of the brain just behind the forehead) as the brain’s “executive centre” or “decision maker.” It is the area of the brain that allows us to step back from a situation and analyse it from a distance.
Brain scans have found interestingly enough, that people who have practiced meditation long term, that when meditating, areas of the prefrontal cortex become extremely active. This bringing about a sense of happiness and bliss. The reason for this experience is partially because of a result of “feel good” hormones (endorphins) being released when the mind is in a meditative state. People often use prayer such as the “Lords Prayer” or Mantra’s such as affirmations or music from nature to bring their minds into a meditative state. These methods can be incorporated throughout the day, when first implementing them you may want to put a timer on for every couple of hours, to do 5 – 10 minutes of meditation. Once this is put into practice over a period of time it will become a habit that you will just do unconsciously.
Neurological studies have also found great benefits with emotional stability and improvements with positive thinking with “random acts of kindness” such as opening the door for someone, listening to someone when they are going through difficult times, being compassionate. The simple act of giving someone a hug or a pat on the back or congratulating them, will decrease cortisol levels a (stress hormone), it will help improve your heart rate whilst at the same time releasing your oxytocin your happy hormone.
Affirmations, Play an important role in positive thinking. Going on Henry Ford’s statement, “Whether you think you can or you think you can’t – You’re Right”! When you think “you can’t”, then your mind will automatically respond with negative self imagery. However, when you think, “you can”, then you are affirming your ability to overcome obstacles. So in neurological terms, “I can’t” activates negative amygdaloidal activity, whereas, “I can” shunts neurological activity to the positive, improving the creative areas of your prefrontal cortex.
Benefits of Positive Thinking on your Health
Stress or the lack of acknowledgement of stress has been identified as the most destructive link to your emotional health and wellbeing. Direct links have been associated with stress being the underlying cause of heart conditions and other life threatening diseases associated with the brain and nervous system.
There have been many long term studies conducted linking the connection between positive thinking and health, showing improvement with immunity and positive thinking.
Scientific studies are not beginning to understand the connection between the causes of mental illness to that of physical illness and the role the thought processes have to play. When people are feeling down on themselves and the world they are less likely to take care of themselves, to eat properly, indulge in negative habits these have a profound effect on the deterioration of both mental and physical health.
There has been found throughout these studies of positive psychology and neuroscience that there is a definite link found between positive thinking, people engaging in acts of kindness, compassion living happier and healthier lives,in comparison to people whom are dependent on material possessions and looking outwardly for happiness and excitement.
Positive thinking isn’t dependant on financial wealth or success, but may well lead incidentally to financial wealth, but more importantly engaging in the activities of positive thinking, actions and lifestyle choices will definitely lead to inner peace, happiness, health and joy.
“If you don’t have Love in your Heart, You will Never find Peace in your Soul”