by Jennifer Duncan
I heard about a book recently that I like to think of as “the happy brain” book. It was written by Shawn Achor, and is entitled, The Happiness Advantage. The gist of the book is that there are two sides to the brain, the happy side which focuses on optimism and things we perceive as “good,”…and the negative side which focuses on problems, irritations and disadvantages. The author suggests that since the brain is a muscle, we can strengthen whichever side of the brain we “exercise” the most. It is our mental focus that “lights up” one side of the brain or the other, and we are in complete control of where we choose to focus.
This idea makes sense to me. It matches my experience. When I focus more on the positive things in life, I feel more optimistic and successful. I feel more hopeful, and more inclined to expect the best in others. Whereas, when I focus on criticisms and disappointments, I begin to expect to see more of those negatives.
A good example of this is in the biblical story of the first sin, in Genesis 3. When Eve believed the lie that she should eat the fruit God had forbidden, her mind was focused on the one thing she couldn’t have, rather than on the thousands of wonderful fruits God had provided.
Preoccupation with what was forbidden, and indeed harmful, led Eve into big trouble. Her darkened mind moved from curiosity to outright criticism of the Creator God! If Eve had instead exercised her “happy brain,” the outcome might have been quite different. How sad that she forgot to be thankful rather than complaining.
As adult examples, we owe it to our children to model and teach this principle: “Life is happier when we focus on the positive and hopeful things in each day.” We can teach this by doing these things:
- Make it a habit to scan your world for the good. Speak positive statements about the blessings you notice.
- Choose to think and speak about these positive details, rather than the negatives.
- Banish all complaining. This could be made a “rule” with children, but your modeling of it will be more effective.
- Choose to see failures and problems as opportunities for growth. Teach children to look at negatives this way.
- Experiment with your family with some “re-focusing”exercises.
- Talk each day about something for which you are thankful. Do this for at least thirty days, with no repeats allowed, to re-train your thought processes.
- Talk together as a family about someone for whom you are thankful. Work together to write a note to that person, expressing your gratitude and encouragement.
As we make it a point to deliberately concentrate on the good things of life, we will strengthen our “happy brain” and develop hearts that are truly grateful.
“Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
Jennifer is a graduate of Oklahoma Baptist University and Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. She is mom to two grown (twin) sons, two wonderful daughters-in-law and four granddaughters. Her late husband, John, pastored two churches in Barry County, Missouri, and one in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Jennifer serves in teaching, music and lay counseling through her church, Arnhart Baptist Church, Purdy, Missouri. She also enjoys leading retreats and Bible studies for women.