Cover of 'X Life Lessons to Live By' book – a collaboration between the author and Chat GPT, offering extensive self-help guidance and tools for mental well-being, specially curated for Mental Health Month, May 2023.

Chapter 5: The Power of Positivity

Chapter 5: The Power of Positivity

It is quite normal to not be positive and not see the good in situations or people. If you find yourself to be drowning in a sea of negativity without any wind behind your sails, take comfort in knowing that pretty much every single person who has ever lived has felt the same way at some point in their life. The real problem is when that depressing feeling turns into a mindset and an entire psychology where every situation and every moment in life is negative and depressing. Even in those situations, it can be beneficial to know that the human brain has evolved to have a strong bias towards negativity. Trying to be positive is almost like trying to push against the tide and nurture your brain to be different from its very nature.

Anybody who has ever read any French Existentialism realizes that their philosophical take on life is one of being lost at sea, drowning in a sea of negativity, and the only glimmer of hope and optimism that someone can find is the few seconds that exist right before they take their last breath and sink to the bottom of the deep, dark ocean.

The good news is we also know that the brain has the power to evolve and change as we age. Our individual experiences shape how our brain is wired in the future. As children, we do not really get to choose how we are raised because those decisions are made by our parents. We pick up on the attitudes, thoughts, and feelings of our environment, and because that environment is entirely controlled by the decisions of the parents, we tend to become more like them. It is a cliche in psychology to say that everything in life is from some kind of childhood experience, in part because our brains are kind of wired like that. But in my opinion, this is an outdated way of thinking about psychology. These ideas are rooted in the history of the turn of the 20th century, during the time of Freud, before modern technology and longitudinal studies of people and their behaviors have been done. Over the last 50 or so years, there have been great advancements in neuropsychology and neuroscience that debunk and also confirm some of what older psychology had to say.

For the record, I am not a neuroscientist, psychologist, or academic. I am just a regular guy who has read a lot of non-academic books on this subject and has applied some of their principles in my own life. From my own experience, I can say that 10 years ago, when I began reading self-help books, my 26-year-old brain was wired differently than it is today. My 26-year-old brain may not have been a completely broken-down Volvo that didn’t run at all and had no tires or energy, but it was also not that far off from being in that state. I am also not claiming that my brain today is a Formula 1 race car, but it is much calmer and more relaxed today than it was at 26. I am in a far more equanimous state today than I was at any other point in my adult life.

For a couple of years in my late 20s, I decided to be as positive as I possibly could in every situation imaginable. I was too mindful about moments and was way more positive than any normal person should be. I figured that if I was as positive as humanly possible for a couple of years, in the future, when I turned into a normal person again, some of that positivity would still be there, which would help me deal with issues life may throw at me. The psychological reset I did to myself actually worked, and I live the benefits every day now in my mid-30s based on decisions I made in my mid to late 20s.

From my experience, the power of positivity is like religion or science: nobody really is 100% sure how or why it works to improve mental health, but everybody is in agreement that being positive and developing a positive outlook on life helps people in the long run.

The following is a Chat GPT explanation of this phenomenon. However, I can sum it all up in one sentence to help get people started: The brain has the ability to change and improve as we get older if we try hard enough at improving it.

Chat GPT on what is Neuroplasticity?

Neuroplasticity is the ability of the brain to change and reorganize itself throughout a person's life. It is the brain's ability to adapt and rewire itself in response to different experiences, such as learning new skills or recovering from an injury.

The study of neuroplasticity has a long and fascinating history. The ancient Greeks were among the first to recognize the brain's plasticity, with the philosopher Aristotle noting that the brain is "soft, moist, and impressible" and that it can change in response to experience. However, it wasn't until the 20th century that the concept of neuroplasticity was more fully explored.

One of the pioneers of neuroplasticity research was the Canadian neuropsychologist Donald Hebb, who proposed the theory of Hebbian learning in the 1940s. Hebb suggested that when neurons in the brain are activated together, they form new connections, and this strengthens their ability to communicate with one another. This process is known as long-term potentiation (LTP) and is a key mechanism of neuroplasticity.

Another important figure in the study of neuroplasticity was the American neuroscientist Michael Merzenich. In the 1970s, Merzenich conducted groundbreaking research on the plasticity of the somatosensory cortex, which is the part of the brain that processes sensory information from the body. He found that the organization of the somatosensory cortex could change in response to changes in sensory input, such as the loss of a limb or the use of a prosthetic device.

More recent advances in neuroimaging technology, such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), have allowed researchers to study the brain's plasticity in more detail. For example, studies have shown that practicing a new skill, such as playing a musical instrument or juggling, can lead to changes in the brain's structure and function.

Neuroplasticity has important implications for a wide range of fields, including neuroscience, psychology, and medicine. For example, it has led to new insights into the treatment of conditions such as stroke, traumatic brain injury, and neurodegenerative diseases. It has also highlighted the importance of lifelong learning and the potential for people to continue to learn and grow throughout their lives.

In conclusion, neuroplasticity is a fascinating and important area of research that has a long history of study. Our understanding of neuroplasticity has advanced significantly in recent decades, and it has led to new insights into the brain's remarkable ability to adapt and change.

What’s left in the Box?

Before Pandora became a planet in a Hollywood movie or a website that streamed music, she was a mythical human woman. Pandora was the first human on earth, created by the gods and Zeus. Her name in Greek means “The one who bears all gifts.” She was given a jar or box and was told not to open it.

Similar to the story of “The Little Mermaid,” Pandora forgot to listen to her elders and let her curiosity take over. Pandora opened the box, and out of it came all the evils of the world. She quickly shut the lid of the box to stop more evils from spreading. The one thing left in the box was something called “Hope.” It was the will of Zeus to leave hope in the box as a reminder that there is always something good to be learned from even the most negative situations.

This myth has been passed down through oral tradition for centuries. It was first written down 800 years before Christ was born. For centuries, the story has fascinated artists, poets, writers, politicians, and the public. Even though conventional wisdom about the story is that it blames women for all the evils in the world, it is a tale of positivity and forgiveness more than it is a tale about evil. Eventually, we are supposed to learn to forgive Pandora for opening the box, be grateful that hope did not escape, and understand that sometimes reality can be full of negativity and we, as humans, cannot live on Mt. Olympus or in the Garden of Eden because we are stuck here on earth.

Neuroplasticity and developing a positive mindset can sometimes be like hope being left in the box after Pandora opened it. We can find good things to focus on in difficult, stressful situations and take 10-20 seconds to focus our energy on that good, positive thing. Eventually, these moments of found happiness or hope add up to massive changes in our psychology over the years.

Even though much has been learned about psychology and measured by modern technology, there really is not much more to developing a positive outlook on life than what Alexander Pope wrote about 300 years ago or what the Ancient Greeks were trying to teach their people through the myth of Pandora.

The common cliche “Hope Springs Eternal” is from a poem by the philosopher Alexander Pope. The poem is an essay on human nature from 1734. This was a time of great scientific advancements and thought. Historically, the worlds of religion, science, art, and everyday life were colliding all across the world. It was not that much unlike the time we are living in today when the worlds of religion, science, art, technology, information, laws, and nature are colliding 24/7 on the internet through advancements in artificial technology and social media. To make sense of the world in 1734, Alexander Pope got to writing.

The following is from my 5 foot bookshelf of a liberal college education from the early 20th century: a.k.a The Harvard Classics.

”Two Principles of human nature reign;

Self-Love, to urge, and reason, to restrain;

Nor this is good, nor that a bad we call,

Each works its end, to move or govern all:

And to their proper operation still

Ascribe all good, to their improper ill.


In lazy apathy let stoics boast

their virtue fix’d; tis fix’d as in a frost;

Contracted all, retiring to the breast;

But strength of mind is exercise, not rest:

The rising tempest puts in act the soul,

Parts it may ravage, but preserves the whole.

On life’s vast ocean diversely we sail,

Reason the card, but passion is the gale;

Nor God alone in the still calm we find,

He mounts the storm, and walks upon the wind.

Long before the creation and invention of electricity, which eventually led to MRI machines, Alexander Pope was writing about the combination of passion, reason, science, and religion.

Reason and logic come in many different forms. There are people who are extremely logical but lack passion and spirituality, which can make them dull and boring to be around. There are people who live only with passion and are wild, chaotic, and unpredictable, making them difficult to be around. There are religious people who have a strong sense of community and helping others but can also be judgmental and difficult to be around. People are very different from each other. But what is a basic scientific and philosophical truth is that people have the ability to change their lives through free will and good decisions.

Alexander Pope’s poem on human nature is much like the myth of Pandora’s box or modern cognitive behavioral psychology. The mind-body connection is an important skill to develop.

Th’ eternal art educing good from ill,

Grafts on this passion our best principle:

“Tis thus the mercury of man is fix’d,

Strong grows the virtue with his nature mix’d;

The dross cements what else were too refin’d,

And in one interest body acts with mind.

In other words, to unleash the power of positivity, it is not just to think logically but also to engage the passions and develop new skills. To develop the skill of seeing the good in bad times is a core principle of developing a strong connection between the mind and body.

A list of habits that might help develop a mind-body connection

Mind Body
Practice gratitude Exercise regularly
Start the day with positive affirmations Eat a healthy and balanced diet
Practice meditation or mindfulness Get enough sleep
Listen to uplifting music or podcasts Take breaks and recharge throughout the day
Read inspirational books or quotes Practice mindfulness while doing everyday tasks
Focus on solutions rather than problems Practice deep breathing exercises
Surround yourself with positive people Take care of your physical health
Engage in hobbies or activities that you enjoy Practice resilience
Practice forgiveness Stretch or do yoga
Learn something new every day Do cardio exercise
Set achievable goals Lift weights or do resistance training
Celebrate small successes Take a walk or hike in nature
Keep a journal or a gratitude diary Practice good hygiene
Take time for yourself to relax and unwind Take a warm bath or shower
Visualize your goals and dreams Practice good posture
Do something kind for someone else Practice safe and healthy habits
Practice self-care regularly Practice good sleep hygiene
Accept compliments and positive feedback Stay hydrated by drinking enough water
Focus on your strengths rather than weaknesses Take breaks from sitting and move around
Practice mindfulness while doing everyday tasks Practice good skin care
Learn to let go of things you cannot control Take care of your dental health
Practice self-compassion Get regular check-ups and medical care
Help others in need Wear comfortable and supportive shoes
Practice positive self-talk Protect your skin from the sun
Avoid negative self-talk Take care of your eyes
Take responsibility for your actions and decisions Get regular massages or other bodywork
Take breaks and recharge throughout the day Practice safe and healthy sex
Surround yourself with positive quotes and reminders Practice good hand hygiene
Don't compare yourself to others Practice good respiratory hygiene
Practice active listening Practice good ear hygiene
Be present in the moment Practice good oral hygiene
Express gratitude to those around you Practice good mental health habits
Find humor in everyday situations Practice good digestive health
Take time to reflect and self-evaluate Practice good heart health
Practice empathy towards others Practice good immune health
Use positive language when communicating Practice good joint and bone health
Surround yourself with uplifting and positive media Practice good reproductive health
Practice resilience Practice good kidney and bladder health
Don't take things personally Practice good liver health
Find the silver lining in difficult situations Practice good brain health
Practice healthy coping mechanisms for stress Practice good muscle h

Quick Story about the American People from my travels

It can be easy to critique the American people as being rude, obnoxious, mean-spirited, uneducated, not worldly, and only out for themselves. However, I have met plenty of good people in America who could not care less about art, history, or fancy things. This attitude, at times, has created some problems in the history of America. But overall, the American people come from good stock despite our many differences and struggles.

Last year, I visited Washington DC for the first time. I spent one night in a hotel just off from the convention center and Chinatown. As I was returning to the hotel after walking around the Capitol Mall, I noticed a group of protesters talking on a soapbox at the metro station just up the block from where the Capitals and Wizards play.

The protestors were actually a small church that held extreme views against others. The church holding the protest was not the Westboro Baptist Church, but it was at the equivalent level of intolerance, although it was comprised of minorities. They were blaming the "White Man" for all kinds of problems, and on the stage, they featured an African American, Latino, Asian, and Native American. Cops were observing the situation to make sure fights or violence did not erupt. Basically, they were people who held racist views engaging in their civil right of protest.

As I looked around, I noticed several other white people who were just going about their day, coming off the escalator from the subway, who had the same look of confusion as I did. I was just walking to my hotel, going about my day, and then I randomly got yelled at by someone as a racist and blamed for every problem in the world. To say that was not a pleasant experience would be an understatement. Luckily, the American people are awesome, and that discomfort only lasted about 25 seconds.

I continued walking across the street and was met by people from various normal churches in the Washington DC area who were handing out hugs and words of encouragement to every white person walking by. These Americans were holding signs that said, "Jesus loves everyone," and a very kind African American lady looked me in the eye and said, "Jesus loves you."

I replied, "Thank you. I really appreciate that and didn't know I needed it until just now. God bless you." As I continued walking, my spirit was lifted, and I did not let the hatred that was coming from the microphone behind me bother me again. Instead, my faith in the American people was restored. "Where there is darkness, there is also light" is a Bible verse but also something you see in movies like Star Wars and Lord of the Rings. Finding the good in not-so-good situations is also something we can learn in everyday life.

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