For such a small organ, the human brain is powerful: not only does it control and regulate the more mundane functions of the body, but it drives its owner to set and pursue goals of varying complexity.
And a recent article on BBC’s news website suggests that positive thinking is the key to well-being for
the brain and the body. A study detailed in Nature Neuroscience suggests that the brain picks and
chooses which information to listen to. When given positive news, all of the test subjects showed frontal
lobe activity. But for people with more positive outlooks, negative news didn’t trigger much activity. On
the other hand, people with more negative outlooks had more brain activity with negative news.
The study suggests that science can help explain how we react to challenges and how our brain
processes them. But it also suggests that a positive outlook—when coupled with reliable information—
can lead to tangible benefits in our lives. Part of creating and maintaining a positive outlook is pursuing
knowledge—whether it’s formal education or more informal lifelong learning, keeping the brain
stimulated can give your body and brain the nourishment they need to keep you healthy and happy.
Ignorance isn’t bliss
One of the remarkable aspects of the article is the idea that “all people are scientists,” that a major part
of human brain function is to make predictions against the facts in front of it. Of course, that could lead
to underestimating risks—but it can also force the brain to think of strategies that could help its owner
beat the odds, so to speak.
For the average person, this means optimism can serve as a suit of armor against failure. And even
though the study states that more optimistic people have less brain activity when processing negative
news, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s ignored—it just means that the positive possibilities are given
more weight than the negative ones. And for people working toward a goal, accentuating the positive is
a valuable habit to cultivate.
Knowing is half the battle
The concept of lifelong learning involves gaining knowledge throughout one’s life. It’s a way to keep
your mind sharp and to improve your outlook of the world around you. The advent of the Internet
has made it possible for almost anyone to pursue their interests: learning more about nutrition could
inspire you to start cooking at home more and improving your diet. Learning more about art history
could inspire you to take classes at an online university and pursue a degree. And with an established
set of goals, whether they’re personal or professional, maintaining a positive outlook on life is easier—
being able to make informed decisions can help you decide if you can meet your goals and beat the odds
As science and technology become more intertwined, we’re learning more about how our bodies and
brains work; we’re also learning that the human brain is a very sophisticated organ and that it’s built to
take care of its owner to the best of its ability. When it comes to keeping a positive outlook, it’s best to
trust your brain.