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!