Why is it so hard to think positive all the time? From an evolutionary perspective it can be difficult to be a positive, happy and optimistic person because our brains have been wired to focus on the negative, since avoiding potential threats is crucial to our survival as a species.
Left to our own devices most of us muddle along, lamenting that other people are luckier than us and blaming our unhappiness on our circumstances and surroundings. Yet deep inner happiness has very little to do with our outer circumstances.
Even though we are conditioned to believe that once we have enough money, status, attention or anything else we desire our life will be blissful and worry-free, happiness studies have proven over and over again that this is not true.
It turns out we’re very good at adapting to our circumstances, regardless of whether they are good or bad. So if you were miserable before you won the lottery there’s a good chance that once the dust settles, you will return to your original miserable state.
Your Happiness Set Point
Most of us have a happiness set point; that is, an emotional baseline that we tend to return to no matter what is happening around us. Some people have a natural tendency towards contentment and optimism. Others have a propensity towards irritability; others still towards melancholy or depression.
Yet neuropsychologist Dr. Rick Hanson says it is definitely possible to change your happiness set point through the phenomenon of neuroplasticity. He emphasises the importance of taking in positive experiences and really kind of soaking our brains in those experiences in order to change our emotional state.
To quote Dr. Hanson, we are ‘Teflon for positive experiences and velcro for negative experiences.’ So we have to work much harder to solidify the positive elements of our lives and in turn, directly influence our happiness.
Taking In The Good
We tend to be what we remember, so we can consciously choose to remember and relive happy times in our lives and in doing so, we change our brains.
When something bad happens to us, we register this immediately in our brains because it’s essential for our survival. For example, if a child touches a hot stove and gets burnt, that memory will be very quickly and strongly sealed into his emotional brain so he doesn’t do it again.
Negative experiences always take precedence over positive ones. Once single bad event is more memorable than one thousand good ones.
On the other hand we need to hold positive experiences in our awareness for a much longer time in order for them to register in our emotional memory. This is why it’s so importance to practise taking in the good.
How To Do It:
Set aside a time each day to actively think of a positive experience you have had recently. This could be something as simple as a delicious meal, playing with your favourite pet or giving your spouse a long, warm hug.
Get in touch with the feelings that go with that experience. Perhaps there was a profound sense of gladness, gratitude or deep love. Keep your attention on that experience and just hang out in the feelings for a while; savour and relish them.
If you continue to do this for 10 or 20 seconds, it will begin to soak into your brain and body, registering deeply as an emotional memory. While this is happening you are literally changing your brain.
If you’ve been searching high and low for reasons why is it so hard to think positive all the time, I recommend you read some of Dr. Rick Hanson’ books.
He recommends you do the taking in the good exercise 5 or 6 times throughout the day and he says if you do this regularly, you will begin to change your happiness set point and bring more happiness, peace and contentment into your life and the lives of those around you. I can help you become a happier person, so contact me here if you would like to work with me.