How many times have you heard ‘accentuate the positive’ from friends when you are down on yourself. Well there is much to learn from that adage.
In one study of nuns over their lifespan, novices were evaluated regarding how they saw the glass half full or empty. The result was that the ‘half empty individuals’ lived ten years shorter than their counterparts. This is equal to a life span shortened by having smoked a pack of cigarettes a day.
In another study involving 240 children aged 7–10, it was found that being positive improved their memory and enhanced their problem-solving skills. Positive students were asked to think negatively for four minutes. Saliva tests confirmed that their immune system was lowered for four hours. Conversely, a group of ‘half empty students’ were given positive input and their immune system improved for two hours. In essence, a number of studies point out that negativity may lead to poor health.
When you are negative, your nervous system defaults to a revved-up state and your blood leaves the areas that require the most nurturing – such as the entire lining of your gut, which needs to be replaced every 72 hours. When there is excessive stress from negativity, your hormones curtail the immune system, further placing you in a more vulnerable state.
Dashner Keltner writes in Born to be Good: ‘Positive thoughts are a biological mandate for health.’ If the multifaceted and probably the most important part of your nervous system, the vagus nerve (which is the nerve of compassion) does not function optimally, our true karma is the survival of the good. This is further emphasised by Stephen Porges in his book The Polyvagal Theory when he described the process of being optimistic and how it determines our becoming more safe, flexible and apt to have better coping skills.
Since the research is conclusive and has shown the effects of negative thinking, also called the nocebo effect, then it stands to reason, that singing ‘Oops there goes another rubber tree plant’, and any other positive thoughts will allow your calm part of your nervous system to be accentuated. You have a choice.
Here is a visualisation exercise which will allow you to expand your reality with the wisdom of not being half empty:
Try imagining a silk thread pulling your head to an erect position. Allow your body to follow its direction. Let positive energy flow through you and around you. Sense your surrounding environment; tell your soul that it is multi-leveled. There are no accidents in this context. Open your being to connecting with others. Channel your energy through them and from them. Let your chi or vital energy introduce your soul to yourself. Feel the energy flow from your belly to the outermost part of your body and existence. Relax your facial muscles; move chi downward to release all tension in your body. Stand up and walk with a new spring to your steps. Feel the balls of your feet touch the ground with new awareness. Each part of you is connected to the whole, which is now more than all the parts of the universe. You are now connected to the universal positive energy that feeds our existence.
It is important to realise that There are many ways to be more positive in your life, even when you’re experiencing sadness, anger, or challenges.
This article is adapted from a forthcoming book, ‘A Wider Lens: How to See Your Life Differently’, to be published in the Autumn of 2018; and will also appear as a column entry in the Summer 2018 issue of Tuxedo Park Magazine.
Dr Kenneth Silvestri has been in private practice as a psychotherapist since 1980. He holds a doctoral degree from Columbia University in anthropology and psychology. In addition, he has been the recipient of national fellowships in the social sciences at the University of Chicago and University of Pennsylvania. Dr Silvestri has participated in post-doctoral training at the Ackerman Institute for Family Therapy in New York City and the Multicultural Family Institute with Monica McGoldrick.
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