The other day I wandered up to the check-out counter of a local store with a few items in hand. A sullen teenager scanned them, took my payment and then muttered, “Have a good day.” I looked up at him and smiled as I responded, “You too!” He shrugged his shoulders and said with a hint of cynicism in his voice, “I’ll try.”
As I walked away I thought about how his answer was more honest than most. It’s true–having a good day doesn’t come naturally to the majority of us. We tend to beat ourselves up about that fact but the reality is our brains simpler aren’t wired to pop into “Pollyanna” mode the moment the alarm goes off.
To help us survive, God made our brains with what researchers call a “negativity bias.” In other words, we pay more attention to negative things in our environment and remember them more clearly as well. Why in the world would that be helpful? Well, paying more attention to the bear charging out of the words than the lovely ice cream cone you’re holding is certainly helpful.
But what this means is that being a positive person requires being intentional and working at it. It also means we can let go of the guilt that comes with this being the case. Your tendency to go to the negative is not a moral or spiritual failure–it’s a part of being human.
Here’s the good news: Our minds are incredibly flexible. We can retrain them to respond differently. Imagine little paths going through your mind (neural pathways). In the moment, your brain will always go down the path that’s been used most often. But if you teach your brain a new path then over time it will become the most used and your brain will begin to naturally go that direction instead.
We’re made to literally, physically be transformed by the renewing of our minds.
Isn’t that incredible?
That teenage check-out guy may not have been ready for positive thinking. But in his reply of “I’ll try” he was on to something. We all have the opportunity to bring more joy and happiness into our lives and it does require some effort on our part.
As I walked to my car I thought, “Yes, I think I’ll try too.”
How about you?