Monday, July 07, 2014

The Power--and Science--of Positive Thinking

Oh, I just love it when something once thought to be old-fashioned turns out to be true and even better when we learn that it is scientifically valid. For me, this latest news goes deep.

Long before my recovery began I was holding on to my fragile sanity and my spirit by reading Dr. Norman Vincent Peale. He was a minister and a best-selling author, and his books had that “boot-strapping,” positive thinking kind of feel. In fact, his best-selling book written in 1952  is called “The Power of Positive Thinking.”

I had his books because my father read them. Looking back, my father probably had the same kind of anxiety that  I do and he probably had layers of shame and fear. He came from an immigrant family that struggled in poverty, he raised his siblings because his father died and his mother was mentally ill.  My father never talked about it but I sensed he got some comfort from Peale so when I left home at 19, and all of my “isms" were driving me, I read Peale too.

Yeah I supplemented my spiritual reading with alcohol, food and bad relationships but it’s interesting to look back 40 years and see the younger me trying to find relief in all those ways but always with some “help me change” book in her hand. Oh that girl. I didn’t know, of course that the books could have done me some good if I wasn’t simultaneously trying to kill every feeling I had. Thank God for recovery.

But thank God for this news too: It turns out that all the practices that Norman Vincent Peale was teaching are valid. According to the Neuroscience Center at University of California Berkeley and Rick Hanson, Ph.D.  the Center’s founder, we can in fact rewire our brains to increase our happiness by—here it comes—positive thinking.

No not by looking at puppies and kittens and not by ignoring the hard things that happen to us but by a deliberate practice of shifting focus and deliberately encouraging the brain to “absorb” the resonance of the dozens of small good things that happen each day. We can, in Hanson’s words, “rewire the brain, capitalizing on what is now known as neuroplasticity.

Not only does this validate what Peale was trying to teach us  ages ago but it also gives scientific ground to many recovery practices we’ve been taught by our sponsors: make a gratitude list, count the positives in each day, do good for and to others and you will be changed. If you think about the “pink cloud” stage of recovery when everything looks good and we are amazed that we can change so much that was us starting to experience the new wiring of our old brains.

If you want to learn more about this take a look at Rick Hanson’s new book where he describes the research and how to create a practice of re-wiring your brain. His book is called, “Hardwiring Happiness: The New Brain Science of Contentment, Calm and Confidence.”

I can just imagine how happy Norman Vincent Peale would be to see this new book.

Here is more information on Rick Hanson's work:
http://www.rickhanson.net/books/hardwiring-happiness



1 comment:

Donnie Benson said...

There's no harm in consulting self-help books to recover from addiction. Books can help a lot in forming a strong foundation as you journey towards healing and can also be a source of hope in trying times. However, it's also important to turn to specialists who are trained in the profession. Their knowledge will serve as your guide as you step towards total recovery. Anyway, thanks for sharing your journey, Diane! I'm sure you'll inspire so many lives! :D

Donnie Benson @ Midwest Institute for Addiction