The Science of Positivity
Don’t we all want to be happy, successful and fulfilled in different areas of our life? Some of us want better health or better relationships, career, finances, better time-management, emotion-management, amazing lifestyle and the depth of spiritual quest. Most of us want all of the above. Now.
But what stops us?
Let me take you on a personal quest to my realisation that complaining is one of the ‘road-blocks’ to the above.
When I was a little girl I wanted to see the world, and learn more about people. I had these big questions in my head like ‘what makes people who they are?’ and ‘why we live?’, ‘why some people look happy and others don’t?’, ‘what makes people feel good?’, ‘do we become happier when we grow old?’, ‘how can we live forever?’ and so on.
Here is the video that I have put together for you on this topic.
My parents come from a humble background and were into studying themselves, doing their PhDs and working as lecturers and researchers who founded a scientific-technological centre, where they work until today. I learnt the zest for knowledge and science as well as how to follow my heart and be curious. I was always curious. Positively curious. They didn’t allow me to watch TV so I could imagine any news I wanted. I was, let’s say, an ‘experimental child’. Later, I went to create more positive news and started the Enrich TV as well as sending newsletters (like this article).
I was dreaming of getting into the Cambridge University but didn’t have enough funds and when I received a scholarship, I thought my dreams came true. I thought people in Cambridge should be the happiest on Earth as they have amazing educational facilities, opportunities and networks of great people. In reality, I found that many people were actually not that happy or fulfilled, but busy with competition, stress, hassle and self-criticism.
I was searching for answers (and still do!) across countries and languages, across professions and degrees, to discover scientific facts that inspired me to do what I do now: help people feel happier and more fulfilled. Inside out. I’m half a researcher and half a life-artist. I have created a life-style where I enjoy time with my family, being a mom and a soul-preneur as well as researching and studying extraordinary people and sharing this knowledge with you.
Our home lab is one of the best resources of insights. I saw an interaction of our sons (3 and 6 years) the other day, when the younger one fell after being ‘slightly’ pushed by his older brother as they were playing Ninjago, and just before he cried for parents’ help, the older brother said: ‘Are you ok? You landed like a Hero!’. There was no crying despite the younger one having fallen badly and obviously being hurt.
It made me think about the power of reappraisal. One of the wonderful tools we use in neuro- and positive- psychology, that works to reshape how we think. From negative meaning-making like ‘he hurt me’ to ‘I’ve fallen like a hero!’.
Before we consider the positives of positive thinking, let’s look at what’s wrong with negativity and how it affects our life.
The art of complaining and its consequences
There are different styles of complaining and they have a direct impact on how we live.
· Venting. Lots of people use this strategy to ‘connect’ with others: e.g. ‘I’m just letting off steam’. ‘Listen to what happened last month’. The problem with venting is that not only the Venter gets effected negatively by their own thoughts and behaviour, but also other people around them, resulting in psychosomatic conditions such as ‘Inflammation, Colds & Flu, infections, depression and fatigue’. It can become ‘toxic’ emotionally to live or be with Venters for a long time.
· Chronic complaining. In psychology, we call it “ruminating”. This means thinking and complaining about a problem again and again without changing anything. It’s like a status quo of being ‘OKish’ but actually ‘quite bad’. Consequences of such strategy can be chronic pain, sluggishness and tiredness, fatigue, depression and even weight gain.
· Passive-aggressiveness. Even by ‘pretending’ it’s all OK, we can’t help but feeling resentment at times. Saying something different from how we really feel, it can be incongruent. There are some consequences of being incongruent such as broken relationships, lack of trust, anxiety, stress and ‘burn-outs’ at work.
The problem with all that is that unintentionally these strategies reinforce the habit of complaining and due to “experience-dependent neuroplasticity” (the neurons wire together when they fire together during an experience, thought or sensation). This means whenever we think a negative thought, we inflict ourselves into experiencing more negative events in life. (Hebb, 1949)
Literally, we create a negative lens of meaning-making in our brain. It’s a habit which can be changed. So, let’s look at healthy practices that make a difference and how we can reshape our magnificent brains.
Imagine you walk on a path multiple times. This makes the path stronger and the grass stops growing while the path has been used. If you decide that path is not as effective to get to your destination you change to another and better one. Eventually, if not walked upon, the old path will be filled with newly grown grass. Similarly, that’s how our brain works. We can rewire our neuro-connections and change physiologically how our brain operates. Where the focus goes, energy flows.
Why are positive emotions important?
The connection between mind and body has been supported by scientific research making it clear that thoughts and feelings play an important role on the overall health and biology.
There are benefits of positive emotions on the immune system and beyond. The field of Epigenetics (the study of changes in organisms caused by modification of gene expression) has shown that our DNA and genes do not control our biology, but rather DNA is controlled by neurological signals from outside of the cell, which include the messages that stem from our thoughts (see research of a cell biologist Bruce Lipton in his book: The Biology of Belief: Unleashing the Power of Consciousness).
The studies of Happiness by Daniel Gilbert, Barbara Fredrickson, Daniel Goleman and Sonja Lyubomisky provide a list of evidence for the possibility of training our brain to be more positive and manage emotions better.
Let’s look at some interesting benefits of positivity:
· Faster memory and cognitive ability (e.g. better problem-solving)
· Better well-being, life satisfaction, hence you are physically healthier
· Better relationships and social connectedness
· Promotes cell regeneration
· Combats stress, depression and provides a source of motivation.
So, here are 5 things research suggests you want to do as of today to feel more positive.
Start observing your thoughts. Watch them come and go. Notice how many positive and how many negative thoughts you have during the day.
Find 5 positive thoughts every day and write them down. Focusing and sharing them in a group or with your partner can enhance the inner benefits for you and them.
3. Power of Gratitude.
Send a letter to a person with the words of gratitude. This gives a boost of endorphins and oxytocin for both people, increases trust and ‘soothes’ the amygdala (part of the brain that triggers flight or fight response). For more watch this interview I had on gratitude.
4. Make a New Path.
Walk a new path to start rewiring your brain for positivity. Start learning a new skill, appreciate what you have (Hygge concept in Denmark) instead of complaining about what you don’t have.
5. Set realistic goals.
Set goals that you can accomplish. Making progress is one of the most rewarding things that make us feel alive. Small progress in chunks. Feeling the growth activates the dopamine release which makes you like what you do.
To sum up, there is plenty of evidence to show we should be more positive. Why not set a goal to raise your positivity advantage today?
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Darya Haitoglou, MSc(Dist), MPhil, BScPsy(Hons), NLPMT, PCC (ICF)
A psychologist and a relationship coach, Darya began her career managing international consumer brands for Procter & Gamble in the UK, moved on to become a human resources manager and eventually became the HR Talent leader for the P&G Geneva hub. She quit her lucrative corporate job in Switzerland to move back to the UK and focus on helping transform people's life and work. With more than ten years of coaching and talent management experience, Darya has been a blogger and a guest speaker on BBC morning and evening radio shows as well as the author of Enrich Your Relationships book.
She holds a First Class Honours Bachelor’s in Economics, Bachelor’s in Psychology, Masters’ with Distinction in International Relations and holds a Masters’ of Philosophy from the University of Cambridge. Darya is a certified trainers’ trainer in NLP and professional certified coach (PCC) from the International Coaching Federation (ICF). Working across different countries and speaking four languages, as well as being a mother of two, she is valued for her skills in helping leaders build successful and meaningful businesses through focusing on their personal growth.
For more information visit www.daryahaitoglou.com