The power of positive thinking

At this time of year, especially during a pandemic, our thoughts can be a little gloomy. Perhaps you’ve already ‘failed’ at your New Year’s Resolutions. Perhaps you didn’t set any resolutions, because who can predict what’s going to happen from day to day anymore?! It’s cold, it’s dark, you might be unwillingly dry or vegan for the rest of the month, and every day there is more bad news on everything from politics to the environment. You’d be forgiven for finding it hard to stay positive! But over time, negativity can lead to unhappiness and dissatisfaction with our lives.


The good news is that researchers have found that the external world only accounts for 10% of our happiness. 90% of our long term happiness is controlled by how our brain reacts to the external world, and this means that we are able to literally ‘think ourselves happy.’


Some strategies for rewiring our brains to see the positive rather than the negative include regularly thinking about things in our lives that we are grateful for, keeping a journal of positive experiences that we can relive by re-reading, exercising (which releases the ‘happy hormone’ dopamine), meditation, and random acts of kindness such as praising colleagues, suprising loved ones with a gift, or volunteering for or donating to a charity. When done regularly any and all of these actions can help rewire our brains so that we automatically react positively rather than the negatively to our external world. This makes us happier!


Business people often have a tendency to err on the side of caution, especially during a prolonged period of disruption like that which has been caused by Brexit and the pandemic. This can make our thinking pessimistic, which we often think of as being ‘realistic’ or ‘sensible’. However, research proves that one of the defining features of successful entrepreneurs is optimism, so it stands to reason that both our happiness and our business success could probably benefit from a bit more positive thinking. And of course your accountant will be there in the background as a critical friend, to make sure that your optimism doesn’t tip over into delusion!


A great explanation of the science behind positive thinking can be found in this hilarious 10 minute TED talk by Shawn Achor. (If you’re watching at work you might want to do it alone, as it will make you laugh out loud!).