Maintaining positive feelings

They say that into every life a little rain must fall but equally “they” acknowledge that every dog has its day. Life is full of downs and ups and as Kipling noted, if you can greet those two imposters the same then the world is yours. However, some of us seem better able to maintain a level of positive emotion than others and now, according to a new study, whether you maintain your positive emotions or not depends on the patterns of thought that you create in your brain.

In the new study participants played a short guessing game and answered questions about their emotions when prompted by a smartphone over 10 days. The guessing game included questions like: “The computer chose the number 5. Please guess whether the next number will be higher or lower than 5.” The subjects would win money or won nothing depending on their response. Winning was intended to create a burst of positive emotion while not winning was intended to create negative emotions. To see how long these emotions lingered after the game the researchers asked a series of questions every 15 minutes after the game to see whether the subjects were savouring positive or negative emotion, or neither.

During the guessing game on some occasions the researchers took functional MRI scans of their brains to see if there was a correlation between brain activity and the ability to maintain and savour positive emotions.

The results showed that people with more persistent activation in a part of the brain called the ventral striatum were able to sustain positive emotions for a longer period of time. The ventral striatum is the brain’s reward and learning centre. Activity in the dorsal prefrontal cortex also determined how rapidly positive emotions followed on from a reward.

According to the researchers these brain areas are stimulated by thought patterns that increase “loving kindness” and “compassion towards others”. In meditation of course, is where you can start to train your brain in these patterns of thought.

So the revolutionary finding is that to live a better life you should love your fellow humans and you can achieve that by living meditatively…oh, wait, there may have been a few wise souls in preceding millennia who have pre-empted these findings; still, wisdom is wisdom, wherever you find it.

Terry Robson

Terry Robson

Terry Robson is the Editor-in-Chief of WellBeing and the Editor of EatWell.

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