The Effect of Positive and Negative Thinking on the Brain
By Saloni Vishwakarma
“Be Positive!” It’s no longer just a saying to make you happy or display an upbeat attitude. Research is beginning to reveal that positive thoughts can create real value in your life and help build skills that do more than just make you smile.
Barbara Fredrickson is a positive psychology researcher at the University of North Carolina. In her published landmark paper that provides insight about positive thinking and skill sets, Fredrickson has tested the emotions by setting up a little experiment. In her experiment, she divided her research subjects into 5 groups and showed each group different emotion-stimulating film clips. Group 1 saw images that created feelings of joy. Group 2 saw images that created feelings of contentment. Group 3 was the control group and so images that produced no significant emotions. Group 4 saw images that created feelings of fear. Lastly, Group 5 saw images that created feelings of anger.
Immediately after, each participant was asked to picture themselves in a situation where they would feel similar emotions and what they would do. 20 blank lines that started with the phrase, “I would like to…” was handed to each participant. The participants that experienced feelings of fear and anger wrote the fewest responses. On the other hand, participants who experienced joy and contentment had written a high number of actions, more than the neutral group. According to Fredrickson, this data shows that positive emotions broaden your sense of possibility and open your mind up to more options.
Meanwhile, negative thoughts narrow your thinking and program your brain to do a specific function. A scenario James Clear presents is that if a tiger crosses your path, you run. The rest of the world doesn’t matter anymore. You are focused on the tiger, the fear from it and how you can get away. Everything else is no longer thought about. At that same moment, Clear says, you can climb a tree, pick up a rock or grab a stick, but your brain becomes programed to ignore all other options and shut off the outside world. Another aspect of negative thinking is that it continues to build. For example, when you are stressed out about the lack of work you accomplished today, you begin to worry about other things, such as how long your to-do list has become or how late will you finish your work. Another example is when you’re feeling bad about the lack of exercise you do, you begin to worry about how you’re lazy or have no motivation. It’s better for one’s mental health if the mind is stress-free and optimistic.
Research also proves those people who think positively have more creativity, which can open many doors in the future. Happy moods stimulate social behavior which helps a person make more friends and gain more contacts. Here’s a question for you: Happiness vs. success-which comes first? There’s no doubt that happiness succeeds success. Winning a trophy, getting high grades, finding someone you love and so on will all bring happiness. However, happiness is prominent to allow for building skill sets, which lead to success. In fact, researchers have noticed an “upward spiral” that occurs with happy people. People are happy, so they develop skill sets, those skills lead to success, which results in more happiness, and the process repeats. Simple as that!
To maintain positive emotions, 3 activities are suggested:
1) Meditation – People who meditate daily display a more positive attitude. Fredrickson experimented with participants who meditated for 3 months and when the experiment was over, people who meditated daily displayed mindfulness, purpose in life, social support and decreased illnesses.
2) Writing – In the Journal of Research in Personality, a study of 90 undergraduate students were split up into two groups. Group 1 wrote about a positive experience each day for three consecutive days, while Group 2 wrote about a control topic. Three months later, the students of Group 1 experienced better mood levels, fewer visits to the health center, and experienced fewer illnesses.
3) Play – By scheduling time for play and adventure, you can experience contentment and joy. By meeting new people at the park, you can develop social skills.
In conclusion, positive thinking are not only moments of happiness, but also vital for opening your mind to explore and building skill sets. So find ways to build happiness and experience positive thought in your life whether it’s through meditation, listening to music, watching a baseball game or anything else. James Clear puts it simply, “Seek joy, play often, and pursue adventure. Your brain will do the rest.”