Thursday, March 29, 2012

Focus on the Positive to be Happier

"Neurons that fire together wire together," is a phrase often heard in neuroscience circles. I think it was first used in the 1940s by Donald Hebb. Recently it was repeated in the book, "Buddha's Brain."

What it means in a practical sense is that we can change the physiology of our brains. When we develop new patterns of thought, our brains respond.

When we were fighting for our lives against lions and tigers, it was a good idea to pay attention to "bad" things that caused us stress. That paranoia was a life-saver. Literally. But it leads to us having what's known as "negativity bias," which is the reason we fixate on the one negative thing mentioned in our performance review instead of the 22 positive things.

We're wired to have intense reactions to negative things. They leave stronger impressions. But in today's world, instead of avoiding a big cat intent on eating our hearts out, we're most likely to only need to fend off the gossipy woman down the hall. Times change, huh? Now, our tendency to focus on the negative could be considered hyper-sensitive.

So, we can train our brains to be more alert to good news instead of focusing on the bad news. When something positive comes along, linger on it for at least a few seconds - 10 or more. Savor it. If you do it multiple times a day, your brain will respond, and you will feel a true emotional shift - because neurons that fire together wire together.

Happiness researchers know this is one of the things happy people do naturally, but anyone can learn. Focus on the positive.

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