“Change the way you look at things and the things you look at change.” ― Wayne W. Dyer
There is no denying that some people are given extremely difficult circumstances in life. Some of the challenges that people face are excruciatingly painful just to hear about and I can’t even begin to imagine what it must be like to live in their shoes. So why is it that some people seem to get through difficult circumstances with strength and courage while others seem to crumble and get stuck? I remember watching news footage after a tornado went through a western town. The news reporter talked to a couple that was standing in front of where their house once stood and they were sobbing as they told the reporter that they lost everything. It was heart wrenching to watch. The reporter then went across the street where another couple stood looking at the debris that was once their house. That couple told the reporter that they were so grateful to be alive. They said they lost the material things, but their whole family was safe and they were just grateful that they had each other and could rebuild the house. Here were two couples looking at exactly the same circumstance, yet they both had very different experiences. The only thing that was different between these two couples was their perception of what happened. One couple was stuck in the negative, while the other was able to look at the positive. It seems so cliché to say that it is important to see life with the glass half full. We have all heard that advice a thousand times, yet what makes it so difficult for us to do it?
There has been an abundance of brain research in the recent decades which has given us some clues to figuring out why it is easier to see the glass as half empty and harder to see it as half full. Rick Hanson wrote a book called Hardwiring Happiness: The New Brain Science of Contentment, Calm, and Confidence. In this book he explains how evolutionarily our brains have gotten upgrades, but the reptilian brain, which is on the lookout for danger is still functioning well. He says that our brains are like Velcro for negative and Teflon for positive. In studies they have found that it takes significantly less time for the brain to register a negative event then it does a positive event. We have a built in negativity bias that we have to overcome. What Dr. Hanson suggests is that we have to consciously soak in positive events for the brain to register them. So, the next time you see a rainbow or a sunset or your child smile take a few seconds and allow the brain to soak it in. The more we take the time to form the neural pathways for happiness the easier it becomes.
So, why does bad stuff always happen to some people? While I don’t want to deny the fact that some circumstances are extremely difficult, what separates the people who get stuck and those who rise strong has much more to do with their perception of the problem then with what actually happened. So take some time to build the brain wiring for positive and see if it shifts how you see the preverbal glass of water.