The Science of Positive Thinking


Are you a pessimist or an optimist? Positive thinking is also a soft and fluffy term that is easy to dismiss and rarely carries the weight, as words like “work ethic” or “persistence.” It is now being revealed through research that positive thinking is about much more than just being happy or displaying upbeat attitudes. These thoughts can actually create real value in your life and help to build some skills that last much longer than that smile of yours. It will have an impact on your work, your health and your life.

Barbara Fredrickson is a positive psychology researcher at the University of North Carolina who published a landmark paper that provides some surprising insights about positive thinking and its impact on your skills. She is the most referenced and cited in her field.

Negative thoughts have an impact upon your brain. It has been long known that negative emotions program your brain to do a specific action, be it fear or other instinct. Fear can be a useful instinct if you are trying to protect yourself. Other instances would be anger and stress. In these cases the brain closes off from the outside and focuses on the negative emotions, just as it does with the fear emotion.

Positive thoughts and emotions on the brain like joy, contentment and love give you more possibilities in your life. It suggests that positive emotions broaden your sense of possibility and open your mind up to more options. Positive thinking will build your skill sets that last much longer than the emotions that initiated them. The emotion that broadens your sense of possibilities and opens your mind is referred by Fredrickson as the “broaden and build” theory. These possibilities will open your mind, and in turn, allow you to build new skills and resources that can provide value in other areas of your life.

To help increase this broaden and build theory are meditation, writing, and by adding playtime into your life. Happiness is the result of achievement and these things will bring joy and contentment to your life, but we sometimes assume this means happiness always follows success. Happiness is essential to building the skills that allow us success, so this is the precursor to success and the result thereof.

Those moments of happiness are also critical for opening up your mind to explore and build the skills that become so valuable in other areas of your life. By finding ways to build happiness and positive emotions it provides more than just a momentary decrease in stress and a few smiles. Positive emotion and unhindered exploration are seeing the possibilities for how your past experiences fit into your future life, when you begin to develop skills that blossom into useful talents later on, and when you spark the urge for further exploration and adventure.

Simply put, seek joy, play often and pursue adventure, and let your brain do the rest for you. And remember that additional benefits are of better health, such as avoiding or fighting cancer!

Dr Fredda Branyon