by Dennis Bradford
in emotional well-being
Why a Positive Attitude Is Important and Difficult to Sustain
What’s so important about a positive attitude? Also, why is it difficult to sustain?
Contrary to what many people believe, we do not perceive what we perceive. We perceive what we think we perceive. In other words, we perceive only an interpretation of reality rather than reality itself.
We are conscious of only a selection of what we sense. In other words, we experience only a fraction of what we sense. Our senses take in far more information than we attend to consciously. At least if we are to believe the scientists who investigate these matters, our consciously lived experience, our individual surreality, is, at best, only a selection from reality.
If so, it’s easy to see how our attitudes might affect the selection, what we consciously attend to.
It’s imperative to note that our brains evolved for survival. If, in a given situation, your attitude is negative, if you feel threatened or fearful or angry, what you attend to in your surroundings will be different than if your attitude had been positive in those same surroundings. Examples of this abound in everyday life. Experience feeds on itself. Your brain is excellent at finding what you are looking for. If you are looking for danger, your brain will find signs of danger. If you are looking for goodwill, your brain will find signs of goodwill.
At least if you want positive experiences in your life, this is why having a positive attitude is important. Having one fosters having positive experiences, which reinforce the positive attitude. It’s a feedback loop.
Since positive experiences are preferable to negative ones, why is maintaining a positive attitude so difficult? Why isn’t it automatic?
To understand the answer, ask yourself this question: “Do I usually think about what I am able to figure out?”
Of course not! Why would you think about something you have already figured out?
What you usually think about is what you have not figured out, perhaps even what you cannot figure out. You are typically much more conscious of what you don’t understand than what you do understand.
(Some researchers have speculated that our default condition, what we think about when we are not forced to think about other issues, is to think about interpersonal relationships. Because they are always difficult, they always provide fodder for our minds to chew.)
Though it’s rewarding to have figured out solutions to our problems, it’s no fun figuring out those solutions. Problem solving, consciously thinking, is hard work. We most enjoy our lives when we simply act without having to think about what we are doing.
So there’s a kind of built in imbalance that explains our tendency to be negative, which is why we have to work at developing and sustaining a positive attitude.
When we are really enjoying life, we are not stuck trying to solve problems about breathing, finding shelter, providing food, finding a sex partner, combatting illness, dealing with aging, worrying about dying and death, and so on. When we are not enjoying life, it’s solving important issues like those just mentioned that are exactly what we are thinking about.
Since issues like those confront us all regularly, we have to deal with them regularly whether we want to or not. It’s having to deal with them regularly that threatens to erode maintaining a positive attitude. That’s why, if you want one, it’s important to work regularly at creating a positive attitude.
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