Why Positive Thinking Actually Works

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I’ve always been skeptical about the advice to “think positive” in order to increase quality of life and overall happiness. It just seems too simple. There has to be more to it. Success and happiness can’t just happen simply by thinking positively.

Or, could it?

Lately, I have been experiencing lower than normal overall satisfaction with life. I really have nothing to complain about specifically. I have a great job, a wonderful family, a beautiful home, and good health. But, there is something just not right. I’ve just been generally unhappy most of the time.

So, I went to a counselor, and the best advice he could come up with was for me to study the concept of mindfulness. Right…

I was fairly desperate to “get better,” so I decided to give it a shot. I started listening to a bunch of podcasts on mindfulness, downloaded a few apps, and picked up a bunch of books from the public library. Oddly enough, this highly qualified psychologist was on to something. I began to discover that it really was my own thinking patterns that were at fault.

Here is what convinced me that positive thinking actually improves your overall quality of life:

Our brains essentially operate in two modes. The first mode is the default mode which is a normal and healthy way to operate. It is referred to as the responsive mode. The responsive mode helps us process the day-to-day events of life in a way that is healthy and productive.

The second mode is how we operate when we face a threatening or stressful situation. It is referred to as the reactive mode. It helps us react quickly to get out of danger. We are not meant to be in a constant state of reaction. This is where we run into problems with anxiety, stress, loneliness, and many other unhealthy states of being.

Although the “healthy” responsive mode is apparently the default operating mode of our brains, the pressures of our current society have increased the frequency in which our brains switch to the reactive mode. For some, these pressures combined with very little rest have caused us to stay in a perpetual state of reaction.

When you take little time for reflection, contemplation, thoughtfulness, gratitude, and many other things that our brains require in order to feel at rest, your brain will have a harder and harder time switching back to the healthy responsive mode.

The solution to this problem is offered by Rick Hanson in his book, Hardwiring Happiness. Although it takes a bit of work to get through, it is incredibly insightful. Hanson describes the brain in a way I have never heard it described before.

In simplest terms, positive thinking helps our brains shift back to the responsive mode from the reactive mode.

By taking just a few extra seconds during moments of positive experiences throughout the day, we will help our brains shift from reactive to responsive. This practice will actually transform the neurological structure of your brain to be more inclined to shift quickly from reactive mode to responsive mode during a stressful situation.

Our brains are designed to be more alert and react more quickly when we are in danger. But, the reality is, most of our stress and anxiety does not come from truly dangerous situations. You need to “train” your brain to get out of that reactive mode quickly so that you can go back to normal operation. This is done by taking a bit of time to reflect deeply on what is good.

So, yes, positive thinking is actually an effective way to increase your overall quality of life. I encourage you to pick up Hanson’s book to learn more.

National Director of Communications for a Canadian Non-Profit. I also write at williamknelsen.com

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