The legend of the two wolves resonates for many of us. Will I be kind; or will I be snarky? Will I share; or will I hoard? Will I get to work on time; or will I lay in bed for just a few more minutes and then tell just a little white lie to my supervisor about why I'm late. Do my thoughts nurture feelings of anger, pride, selfishness and hatred; or do I tend to seek thoughts and experiences that nurture kindness, love, joy, peace, humility and empathy? Does it matter? As it turns out, yes. The joy and peace you experience is directly associated with your "way of thinking' and influences all your actions and choices. What you think about, you do bring about. When we change our way of thinking, we can literally change our reality.
In Dr. Kelli Harding’s recent book The Rabbit Effect - Live Longer, Happier, and Healthier with the Groundbreaking Science of Kindness she offers contemporary scientific evidence that validates that the wolf inside that gets fed leads to changes in our physiology that then nurtures more of the same. In other words, 'what we think about, we do bring about.’
“Watch your thoughts, they become your words; watch your words, they become your actions; watch your actions, they become your habits; watch your habits, they become your character; watch your character, it becomes your destiny.” Lao Tzu
When we have pre-determined negative judgments about people - they're dirty, they're poor, they're rich, they're greedy, they're selfish, they're whatever - if that thought leads us to treat another person badly, our actions are likely to create a self-fulfilling prophesy. Interestingly, when we treat others badly, chances are they are not going to response to us with warmth and support. This repeated sequence - thought and reality reinforcing our preconceived notion - creates or strengthens a neuro-connection that then reinforces this negative cycle.
If we wake up in the morning and consider how bad this day is going to be, the chances of it being surprisingly wonderful, go down considerably. Conversely, when I wake up in the morning grateful to have awoken, thankful for the blessings I have which include that I woke up in a house that has heat and that I get to take a warm shower, my chances of having a great day regardless of the circumstances I encounter, increase exponentially. And day after day, what we think about we literally bring about in our lives and in our bodies. As I enter a retail store and greet the people I meet with sincere kindness and energy, I generally receive friendliness in return and endorphins light up my brain and I experience positive feelings; If I enter a store scowling, the chances of me having a kind, positive exchange with another human being are lessened significantly, and I miss out on this physiological 'feel good' experience. Yet, we all have bad days; and don't perpetually positive people get on your nerves? Well, too bad; learn from them. If we can remind ourselves that positive, cheerful and 'good' begets, positive, cheerful and 'good'; and that very rarely is our gossiping, bellyaching, and angry behavior met with positive and warm responses. In the battle between good and evil, the one we feed always wins.
In the Book of Joy, co-authored by Archbishop Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama, these wise gurus remark repeatedly that the ability to experience joy despite each having suffered miserable atrocities is rooted in our brain and heart’s ability to feel hopeful and optimistic. When we have hope and purpose, we can weather any storm. They espouse that the source of our hope and subsequent ability to experience joy only comes from within. The Book of Joy, too, cites multiple scientific studies within this incredible collection of wisdom that reinforce the potential that is within each of us to awaken to a better and more joy-filled version of ourselves, today. And then the following day, we have an equally wonderful opportunity to repeat again the steps along that path that enable us to enjoy every day. And as we experience these positive emotions, step-by-step every day or at least more frequently as we establish positive thinking as a new habit, even when we trip, and have to start over, our brains rewire to encourage us to keep going; and then our brain rewires again to inspire us to leap forward toward the guaranteed promise of joy and peace.
Dr. Harding's research targets healthcare providers and elevates awareness that the human connection fostered between patient, family and caregiver, has both short and long term implications for clinical outcomes. As is revealed in the title of her book, Dr. Harding, provides numerous examples that “Kindness matters.” She elaborates by describing the changes at the cellular level that occur when we experience human connection.
One of the powerful take-aways from Dr. Harding's research focused on the secrets to joy in the workplace as was accidentally uncovered in the Whitehall studies. “When people felt socially supported by their supervisors - they could make their own decisions during the day, felt rewarded and valued for their efforts on the job, and were engaged by their work - their mental and physical health benefited. In addition,” she continued, ‘those who felt socially supported in a positive work environment took less sick leave and company health care experiences were 50 percent lower!” The troubling insight for me is that this study was released in 1991, yet we continue to struggle to believe that the mind and body are integrally connected…and more importantly, that we as human beings are integrally connected to one another. Kindness and connection matter, and the cycle begins with our thoughts.
So begin today to pause and consider your thoughts. Are your thoughts feeding the good wolf inside you? We cannot let current circumstances or habits limit our pursuit of a life filled with joy. It’s time to awaken, rev up our positive, energizing and optimistic thoughts, and allow our own biology to power our journey. What we think about, we bring about!