We only live once. This is the rule which guides many millenials today as they continue to pursue their dreams and desires. And yes, it’s true! We only have one life, so it makes perfect sense to live it to the fullest and make the most out of it, right?
But there are lots of things around us that are definitely out of our control. There are unpleasant circumstances that can significantly affect our emotions and outlook in life.
And different people react differently to the deal they have been dealt. Some people seem to have it all, yet are full of misery and negativity. Others seem to have run into every bit of bad luck possible, but are the happiest people we know. This just shows that living a happy and satisfying journey on earth is a choice.
The secret? It’s all in the BRAIN.
Did you know that the people surrounding you can actually affect your physical health? And do you know that your brain has something to do with it?
It is often said that when we surround ourselves with positive people, goodness and happiness follow.
Cliché? Perhaps. But this article will provide logical evidence that this may actually be true. When you’re done reading this, you’ll be more inclined to be with people who have positive behaviours, beliefs, and outlook on life. You’ll certainly want to avoid people who dwell on negativity, depression, and pessimism.
We all know that the brain is an integral organ of the central nervous system that plays a wide range of crucial and complex roles in the human body. All the knowledge and experiences we’ve acquired in the past can affect our cerebral clockwork. This change will eventually affect our personality and behaviour, shaping the person we are. Find out just how our cerebral function may affect our views on life and what we can do to make our life journey worthwhile.
- Synapses Reshape Our Brains
The brain has a collection of synapses. These structures allow a nerve cell (known as a ‘neuron’) to move an electrical charge or signal to the target neuron. Synapses are separated by an empty space called the synaptic cleft. With every thought, one synapse sends a signal to another synapse through these clefts.
The same process occurs when you are in pain. When your toes are aching, the sensation in your toe is actually the signal or charge that is carried by the nerves to your brain where the pain is actually ‘felt’.
Whenever an electric charge is triggered, these synapses tend to grow closer together, to reduce the distance the charges must travel. We can see from these processes just how the brain is in a constant state of change.
2. Synapses Determine Our Personalities
Now we know that the brain is constantly changing itself every time we have a new thought. If we frequently think of the same thing, the synapses begin forming a stronger bond that becomes our personality. It affects our aptitude, skills, intelligence, and easily accessible thoughts. Effectively, the physical construct of our reality is also altered.
Let’s take a look at just how this works. Imagine having 2 set of players throwing a ball at each other. One pair stands 10 feet apart and the other pair stands 100 feet apart. With the same speed and velocity, a player from each team should throw the ball to his partner at the same exact time. The first team that gets the ball delivered to his partner wins. In this scenario, the ball represents our thoughts or the electric charges. The first thoughts that are delivered affect our mental state and personal decisions. This how synapses in our brain work.
The fact is that the players who are 10 feet apart will always win the game. By repeating the same activity and thought over and over again, the synapses involved are brought closer and closer together. Thus, when both pair starts throwing the ball, we know immediately that the pair standing 10 feet apart will always win. Again, this is because of the reduced distance travelled by the electrical charge due to the movement of the synapses closer and closer together.
3. Positive vs. Negative, Love vs. Fear, Acceptance vs. Regret, Drift vs. Desire
At some point in our lives, certain circumstances trigger opposing reactions…love or fear; drift or desire; pessimism or optimism; acceptance or regret.
By dwelling and focusing more on the four positive reactions, you can beat the negative ones. It is important that we learn to love everything that comes our way and to wake up every single day with resounding optimism.
Remember that the universe is out of our control—we can’t always get what we want. It is so much better to go with the flow and try to be flexible with accepting whatever life throws at us.
We should try to accept every situation, good and bad, with optimism and love. Use every life experience as a lesson to be learnt, and look forward to what the future holds for us. Doing this over and over again will enable the synapses associated with positive feelings to move closer and closer together.
Conversely, the synapses associated with depression, melancholy, fear, pessimism, desire, and sadness have lower chances of getting triggered. The frequent movement of love synapses leads to more positive thoughts, reactions and personality.
4. Sense of Empathy
Now we know that reality can really be altered by our thoughts. But did you know that the thoughts of those around you can also affect your brain and its synapses?
Modern man is gifted with a sense of imagination that enables us to escape our present, and go back to our past to predict an outcome or future. We learn from our past experiences what future events are likely to lead to. For example, after burning ourselves, we know that in the future, exposure to excess heat will cause pain. This causes us to avoid this in the future.
However, our brain and its synapses don’t just affect situations. Our brain also works the same way with emotions. Whenever we see people experiencing extreme emotions (e.g. pain, happiness, fear), we want to see and experience what they’re going through—i.e. we want to empathise with them. Thus, our brain triggers the synapses related to those emotions. Thus, you shouldn’t be surprised to see a very calm person losing his grip and cool when he is influenced by people harboring negative emotions. The same mechanism works in concerts and festivals where happy people unite as they sing and celebrate music.
Perhaps now you have a grasp on how intertwined your brain, thoughts, emotions, and personality are. When we surround ourselves with positive and happy people, love synapses continue to move. In this way, they continuously reshape our brains, causing our outlook and personality to become increasingly positive. On the other hand, when we continue socialise with negative people, our brain continues to fire synapses associated with these negative feelings. This makes our personalities jaded or bitter in the long run.
5. The Brain and the Immune System
When our brain continues to fire negative synapses, our immune system is adversely affected. A group of researchers led by Richard Davidson in the University of Wisconsin studied a part of the brain called prefrontal cortex (PFC). The study involved a group of people who recently had their flu vaccine. Results of the study revealed that an overactive right PFC is associated with depression. When the study sample was asked to dwell on their life’s depressive moments, their right PFC showed immense activities and their antibody levels were remarkably low.
On the other hand, those who were asked to think about their life’s happiest moments showed the highest levels of activity in their left PFC, and their antibody levels were significantly higher.
The researchers concluded that people who chose to dwell on positive thoughts showed better response to the vaccination. However, the researchers did not explain the connection between positive people and improved immunity against illnesses.
For a long time, researchers have failed to establish the connection between a positive outlook and enhanced immunity. However, Candace Pert was able to do this. Considered as the mother of psychoneuroimmunology, Candace Pert was a pharmacologist and neuroscientist who was highly regarded for her contribution in the field of Body-Mind Medicine. She discovered the use of opiate reactors and drugs in treating mental illness. She was also known for her peptide medicines which were used in treating pain, dementia, and HIV.
According to Pert, the brain produces certain neurotransmitters (brain chemicals) that are associated with very feeling or emotion. These neurotransmitters carry the emotional imprints all throughout the body—and these emotional imprints are actually recognised by our immune system.
Any negative emotional imprint is considered as threat by our immune system. This causes it to launch an immune response to repair or protect. On the other hand, positive emotions are considered as non-threatening so our immune system remains at ease.
The concept of psycho-neuro-immunology (PNI) is the governing principle behind the idea that a positive outlook can improve one’s physical health. It isn’t just the brain that produces chemical signals. While the brain releases neurotransmitters, the endocrine and immune systems also send back chemical messages to the brain. Put simply, our emotions, thoughts and feelings determine the kinds of neurotransmitters released by the brain. This, in turn, triggers the immune system to launch a response and release chemical messages to the brain.
Now, as you continue to harbour negative emotions, your brain fires synapses of anger and depression. This then triggers the immune system to launch a response. Over time, the immune system can be weakened as a result of this. Apart from increasing your blood pressure, this increases the risk of developing heart diseases, diabetes, obesity, and a wide range of ailments.
The main point to remember is that continuously complaining about the negative aspects of live causes stress to the body. Stress is one of life’s greatest enemies as it significantly increases the body’s cortisol levels.
Scientists believe that elevated cortisol levels increase one’s risk for high blood pressure, poor learning and memory, weight gain, heart disease, and high cholesterol. It can negatively affect bone density and immune function. High cortisol levels over an extended period may result to mental illness, depression, and reduced life expectancy. Results of two separate studies revealed that it can reduce resilience and trigger mental illness.
The bottom line is that the universe is chaotic. There are lots of unexpected and unwanted events that can significantly affect our physical and emotional well-being. Any moment can potentially bring all sorts of emotions. At some point in our lives, we’ll have to deal with death, grief, and sadness. This is simply part of life and we need to address them and try to move on. Living in regret and constant grief will certainly shape our brain which can result in a bitter, jaded, unhappy, and cynical mindset.
Why don’t you take every unhappy moment as a lesson? Admit and accept that your situation sucks but don’t forget to take a moment to think about your take away from that situation. What have you learnt, and how will this shape you as a person in the future?
Remember that what doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger. A failed relationship, for example shouldn’t keep you down forever. Rather, it should cement in your mind the traits that are important to you, helping you to select a suitable partner in the future. This can help you avoid investing your feelings in someone with whom you aren’t compatible. Following these life rules every day will help your tomorrow be better than your today. Embrace every new day; learn new things; choose love over war, hate and fear, and you’ll experience the kind of life that only happy and contented people gets to enjoy. Do this every single day and you’ll definitely see the beauty of our existence in this lifetime—and improve the health of your body in doing so.
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