Why is it that we prefer bad news to good news? (If you doubt this, just watch the news!) Why do we tend to think the worst of people when we hear a tale instead of thinking the best of them?
Apparently there’s a scientific reason for this.
According to psychologist and author, Rick Hanson, PhD (“Hardwiring Happiness”)…..
In our brains, there are two different systems for negative and positive stimuli. The amygdala uses approximately 2/3 of its neurons to detect negative experiences, and once the brain starts looking for bad news, it is stored into long-term memory quickly. Positive experiences have to be held in our awareness for more than twelve seconds in order for the transfer from short-term to long-term memory. Rick Hanson describes it in this way: “The brain is like Velcro for negative experiences but Teflon for positive ones.” (quote retrieved here *)
Apparently, our brain defaults to think negatively very quickly. The reason for this is because of our survival instinct. We need to respond to threats immediately. For instance, if a tiger were to jump out in front of you in the jungle, it’s probably important to run to safety rather than stopping to admire its beauty!
While this default “fight or flight” mechanism (amygdala) works great in the jungle or war zone, it’s not so good for us in just about every other situation…especially in our relationships.
The amygdala has been called our “reptile brain.” The problem is, two reptiles don’t resolve issues very well! This is the “brain” that makes you argue into the night. I talked about this in my post, “Thoughts about fear and love.”
Another problem with our default negative thinking is that it totally shuts down our brain for anything else. Here’s what Barbara Fredrickson, a positive psychology researcher at the University of North Carolina, said about negative and positive thinking and it’s impact on our skills.
First, the impact of negative thoughts on your brain:
In each case, your brain closes off from the outside world and focuses on the negative emotions of fear, anger, and stress…. Negative emotions prevent your brain from seeing the other options and choices that surround you. It’s your survival instinct.
Here’s Fredrickson’s findings on the impact of positive thoughts on your brain:
In other words, when you are experiencing positive emotions like joy, contentment, and love, you will see more possibilities in your life. These findings were among the first that proved that positive emotions broaden your sense of possibility and open your mind up to more options.
The benefits of positive emotions don’t stop after a few minutes of good feelings subside. In fact, the biggest benefit that positive emotions provide is an enhanced ability to build skills and develop resources for use later in life. (quotes retrieved here *)
What the research is telling us is that when we focus on positive thoughts, our brain opens up to greater creativity, possibilities, joy, happiness, and enhanced ability. When we focus on negative things, well…we think like reptiles.
Wouldn’t it be better to think more like humans than reptiles? Just saying…
Getting back to Hanson’s research, because negative thinking comes natural to us (“Velcro”), and positive thoughts don’t (“Teflon”), our brain needs to focus on positive things longer (at least 12 seconds). In other words, we need to meditate (think deeply or focus one’s mind for a period of time) on positive things in order for them to rewire our brain. Of course, the Bible tells us this very thing:
8 Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things. (Phil.4:8 NKJV *)
So, the next time you hold a little baby in your arms, look into your lover’s eyes, gaze at a beautiful sunset, walk barefoot in the summer grass, or experience anything else wonderful in your life, don’t just move on, stop and take in the wonder of it all….
Oh, gather ’round brethrin and sisterin, I feel a sermon comin’ on…take it away Johnny!
Really well said. 🙂
Thanks for your “positive” feedback, IB. 🙂
Wow!! This is exactly what I needed to hear. Sometimes I feel like I’m drowning in my current season of life, trying to balance stay at home dad and work schedule. I so easily feel anxious and fearful. But sometimes my wife and I share what we are grateful for at the end of the day and it feels like my whole outlook has changed. So cool to read the research you cited as one of the reasons I am feeling this intense negativity and then hopefulness when we focus on gratitude moments. This explains so much. Thanks for sharing!
You’re welcome, Lucas. You have a wonderful treasure right at home everyday! Cherish them always. 🙂 Those are the things that make the rest of the trouble worth going through.
Blessings to you.
That is wonderfully said. Such a great reminder.
Teflon brain, eh? So that’s why I can’t remember stuff. I’ve got a good memory, it just doesn’t last very long. What’s the exchange rate for replacing my teflon for some good velcro?
This is excellent, Mel. I think this inspired me to write a post on FHG. Thanks for sharing. Thanks for the velcro thoughts. God bless.
Well, we seem to have some good Velcro for all the negative stuff. It’s just getting the good stuff past our Teflon brain! 🙂
Ahhh….This is why those Christian’s who spend more of their time meditating on the Word seem so much more happy than those who meditate on Sponge Bob. Good word. Nice touch with Johnny. “Come on, preacher. Tell it like it is.” 🙂
Yeah, meditating on Scripture is vastly better than Sponge Bob, and Sponge Bob would be vastly better than meditating on 24-hour news channels. 🙂
This is great, Mel. While my short term memory has taken a hit, I think I can manage 12 seconds. 😉
Yes, it is amazing what a difference 12 seconds can make! 🙂
“God, renew our minds!” Thanks Mel for a good reminder!
Yes, that’s what we need…our minds renewed! Blessings to you, Heidi.
Thanks Mel for reminding to count on positive thoughts and admire the beauty rather than passing by
Thanks for your encouraging comments. Blessings to you.
Love the “Velcro” and “Teflon”!