Yes, you’re reading this blog on a Monday. As week days go, Monday isn’t nearly as fun as a Thursday, or Friday. But that doesn’t mean you should be unhappy. A recent study purports that repetitive negative thinking is linked to cognitive decline.
The authors of the study propose that repetitive negative thinking may be a new risk factor for dementia. Based on various tests, the study found that when compared to non-pessimists, people who think negatively have a greater buildup of certain proteins in the brain that cause Alzheimer’s disease (the most common type of dementia), a worse memory, and greater cognitive decline.
Based on this correlation, it is believed important to think happy thoughts. Whether you are a glass half empty or half full kind of person, the brain can be trained to be more optimistic. This can be done in a number of ways, including:
- meditating – one study found that only 30 minutes a day over a two week period produced a measurable change in the brain
- practicing gratefulness – taking a few minutes each day to write down what you are thankful for
- reframing negative thoughts –changing your perspective on a situation to give more of a positive or beneficial meaning to you
As Bobby McFerrin sings, ‘In every life we have some trouble / But when you worry you make it double / Don’t worry, be happy / Don’t worry, be happy now’.
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It’s taken decades, but we’re slowly coming to terms with a few of the “isms” in our culture – racism and sexism being two obvious ones. We can add discrimination based on disability and sexual preference as two others.
My question, thought, is does “ageism” belong in the same category? Ashton Applewhite, the author of This Chair Rocks: A Manifesto Against Ageism, believes it does. This website sets out her thesis – and the Globe and Mail provided an excerpt recently.
Applewhite is thorough – and has certainly done her research. She is also getting a lot of positive press. But not everyone is entirely convinced of everything she says.
How bad is it?
Applewhite defines ageism as follows:
Discrimination and stereotyping on the basis of a person’s age. We’re ageist when we feel or behave differently toward a person or a group on the basis of how old we think they are.
So, ageism affects both the young and the old. One interesting idea is her move to change words like “adolescents” and “seniors” to “youngers” and “olders.” I like the way this subtle shift in language (to my ear anyways) eliminates a lot of the baggage associated with either end of the age spectrum.
Age discrimination certainly exists – we can all get impatient by slow walkers or dismiss the ideas of olders too readily. And this is an area we should definitely continue to work on, to ensure that youngers and olders are respected as individuals at every stage. But much of Applewhite’s focus is on how we shouldn’t stereotype ourselves as we get older – the negative talk that we tell ourselves (like being too old to dance, too old to ski, and too old to attend a political rally). And that’s where some aren’t sure her arguments have merit.
Do we limit ourselves based on our own notion of age? Or do our individual conditions and state of mind do that for us?
Applewhite brings out the stats on how able and happy those over age 65 are, and encourages us to google the U-curve of happiness as evidence. Here it is, courtesy of the Washington Post:
As multiple studies have shown, we are happiest at the beginning and end stages of life. So this begs the question: if the curve clearly shows greater happiness as we move through our 60s, 70s, and 80s, how much of a negative impact is ageism really having? And how much self-ageist thinking is actually taking place?
We seem to be doing a pretty good job of aging happily. Personally, I’ve been relying on my own mind and body, not my age, when I make decisions to add or subtract things from my life. I think most people are doing the same.
Thanks for reading … Have a great day!