The revered Dr. Norman Vincent Peale wrote these words for his immensely popular 1952 book The Power of Positive Thinking:
The way to happiness: keep your heart free from hate, your mind from worry. Live simply, expect little, give much. Fill your life with love. Scatter sunshine. Forget self, think of others. Do as you would be done by. Try this for a week and you will be surprised.
A study by Michigan State University is the first to provide evidence that Dr. Peale’s words are much easier said than done. The study, led by psychologist Jason Moser, provides biological evidence suggesting our brains are hardwired to be positive or negative thinkers.
“It’s the first time we’ve been able to find a brain marker that really distinguishes negative thinkers from positive thinkers,” said Jason Moser
For the study, 71 female participants were shown graphic images and asked to put a positive spin on them while their brain activity was recorded. Participants were shown a masked man holding a knife to a woman’s throat, for example, and told one potential outcome was the woman breaking free and escaping. Though, personally, I would have preferred that men had been included, the study focused on women because they are twice as likely as men to suffer from anxiety related problems and previously reported sex differences in brain structure and function could have obscured the results.
The participants were surveyed beforehand to establish who tended to think positively and who thought negatively or worried. Sure enough, the brain reading of the positive thinkers was much less active than that of the worriers during the experiment.
“The worriers actually showed a paradoxical backfiring effect in their brains when asked to decrease their negative emotions,” Moser said. “This suggests they have a really hard time putting a positive spin on difficult situations and actually make their negative emotions worse even when they are asked to think positively.”
There is no mention in the report of depression, but I would think further study would show that those of us who live with it would be more susceptible. I can’t think of a single person I know with depression, including myself, who doesn’t live with constant worry. To me, it is another curse I have to live with.
I have learned to live each day as it comes, and not to borrow trouble by dreading tomorrow. It is the dark menace of the future that makes cowards of us.
Nice quote from Dorothea Dix, but I don’t think I’m a coward. Dealing with depression, and therefore I worry – I think of myself as a survivor, not a coward. Comments like hers may be well meaning, but according to Moser “You can’t just tell your friend to think positively or to not worry – that’s probably not going to help them, so you need to take another tack and perhaps ask them to think about the problem in a different way, to use different strategies.”
Negative thinkers could also practice thinking positively, although Moser suspects it would take a lot of time and effort to even start to make a difference
Source: Michigan State University