Lao Tzu once said, “if you correct your mind, the rest of life will fall into place.” Happiness truly is a state of mind, and each individual has the power within them to change his or her brain patterns to operate accordingly.
Multiple studies have concluded that optimism has a positive impact on our overall well-being. One 1970’s study from Oxford, Ohio, surveyed the happiness levels and attitudes of its residents. An analysis of their records found that the residents surveyed who had a positive outlook on their lives lived approximately 7.6 years longer than those who had negative attitudes.
A BBC television special entitled Horizon: The Truth About Personality examines mind exercises that can transform negative thinkers into positive thinkers. Presenter Dr. Michael Mosley explains that contrary to popular belief, genetic predisposition towards either optimism or pessimism has only a small role in a person’s attitude, and that attitudes are highly malleable.
Dr. Mosley underwent a brain scan, performed by neuroscientist Elaine Fox, in preparation for the program. Images were taken of his frontal cortex, to see which areas were highlighted. Professor Fox explains, “the amount of activity in the frontal cortex does seem to be a good marker for positivity and negativity.”
Brain scans have shown scientists that positive people generally have a more active left frontal cortex, and negative people have a more active right frontal cortex. Dr. Mosley’s brain scan revealed that he had a more active right frontal cortex, which aligned with his view of himself as a pessimist, and his self-reported issues with insomnia.
The next step for Dr. Mosley was to see if his pessimism could be changed. One exercise that he performed in order to train his mind towards positivity was Cognitive Bias Modification. This exercise involves viewing a screen for 10 minutes each day for a few weeks. The screen flashes between a series of 15 faces, 14 of which display a negative emotion. Only one of the faces is happy, and it is the participant’s goal to recognize and click on the happy face.
Professor Fox explains, “I was very skeptical when I got into this initially. But the task we used in the show has been used with kids with self-esteem issues. And it does seem to have very powerful effects. It is early days, but the signs are that it is definitely effective.”
Indeed, after a few months of performing this exercise daily, Dr. Mosley reported that he was feeling more optimistic, and experiencing more restful sleep.
According to Professor Fox, “there are situations when things go wrong, and having a healthy dose of pessimism can be good. But the evidence shows that, broadly, having a positive attitude really does boost your well-being.”
As most of us do not have access to a Cognitive Bias Modification screen, there are other things we can do at home to train our minds to be positive. One such thing is daily meditation. Meditation has been shown by a number of studies to help relieve stress and give people a more centered, positive outlook, leading to increased happiness and quality of life.
Meditating in the morning, even for a few moments, lets you prepare your mind for your day, and awaken in the best light possible by thinking affirming, self-actualizing thoughts. Meditating for a few moments before you go to sleep at night is also very happiness-promoting, as it allows you to let go of the anxieties of the day and return to your center.
By spending some quiet time with yourself, you are more able to recognize your negative thoughts and feelings, and then gently let them go in favor of the present moment. This is a very powerful practice, used since ancient times and hailed by an array of cultures as a profound part of their tradition.
One of the most powerful effects of meditation is that it can help you get in touch with who you truly are at your core – your authentic self. Once you know and recognize who you are, it becomes easier to act with positive intention towards yourself and towards others.
Additionally, by taking a few moments to be thankful for what you have in the present, a sense of deep contentment can be allowed to develop, as the mind is able to be satisfied, without craving for more.
While genetics and life circumstances obviously play a role, your happiness is ultimately up to you.
-The Alternative Daily