The Healing Power of a Well-Placed Curse

My feet seem to have an uncanny ability to always find the one missing lego or the edge of the table leg I wasn’t paying enough attention to. I am not exactly what you would call a delicate flower; I am clumsy and uncoordinated, and when I hurt myself I can have the mouth of a sailor. If you see me in my regular daily life I seem pleasant enough, but watch me stub my toe once and you’ll hear a string of curse words you didn’t even know existed, laid out in colorful combinations you never would have thought to try. They usually don’t make sense, and my face will probably turn beet red after I realize what exactly I said in front of you; but you will walk away feeling thoroughly educated.

I never put much thought into this knee-jerk reaction, I just knew that yelling my obscenities and jumping up and down on my good leg made me feel better. But as it turns out, there is actual science behind this little fluke of humanity (studies like this make me kick myself internally for not joining the scientific community as my own career path). It is no secret that words have power; they can evoke tearful compassion, blood boiling anger, they can inspire uprisings and tear down governments. Words have the ability to lift the spirit or break the soul. Swearing itself evokes an emotional response; if you have ever been yelled at by a parent or glared at by a co-worker after allowed a particularly colorful four-letter beauty slip from your lips, then you have witnessed the response firsthand. We have created our own taboo language and imbued it with power, determining on a whim what is socially acceptable and what is not. If our response to mere words is so strong that we have created our own form of self-censorship, then what else can they do? Once again, science swoops in with the answers.

Researchers at Keele University’s School of Psychology were curious about the potential physical effects of swearing, and so they conducted their own experiment. This little test has been repeatedly replicated, and even found its way onto the TV show Mythbusters. They took 64 lucky undergrad volunteers and had them all partake in the ice water test. Each participant was asked to submerge their hand in a tub of ice water for as long as they possibly could while repeating a single word. For a control, participants were asked to do this while repeating a fairly innocuous word describing a table. And then we got to the good part; those involved in the study were then told to do the exact same thing, only this time they choose whatever curse word their heart desired. As it turns out, when repeating their favorite swear word, participants were able to hold their hand in the ice water for substantially longer than they could with a regular mundane word. In fact, they were able to tack on an average of 40 additional seconds to their time. As we all may know from plunging our hand into a slightly-melted cooler looking for the perfect beverage during the summer months: an additional 40 seconds in once water is a long time. After repeated experiments, they were able to confidently declare that, yes, the act of cursing actually did have a pain-lessening effect.

Scientists aren’t sure why this link exists, but they suspect that the act of cursing triggers our natural ‘fight or flight’ response. The heart rate of volunteers accelerated, which suggests that the amygdala was being activated (this part of the brain is responsible for the fight or flight reaction). It might account for a slight increase in aggression; and anytime we physically experience an increase like this, our body is internally preparing for a fight- which means it is bracing itself for possible pain to be inflicted on us. As a measure of self-protection, it dampens the pain receptors so you can focus on what you need to do to get out of your sticky situation.

But why curse words specifically? Why couldn’t you just scream ‘pop tart, French fry, monkey , handlebar, potato’ at the top of your lungs instead? It’s interesting to note that curses themselves work differently than traditional language. Studies suggest that they originate in a different, older part of our brains. They are more closely tied to the emotional centers in the right side of the brain, whereas most language production takes place in the left cerebral hemisphere. This is something that can be seen in certain cases of brain damage where most language function deteriorates, and yet the patient can still scream the f-word quite clearly and at regular intervals. Pretty crazy, isn’t it?

Now, before you foul-mouthed fiends start jumping for joy, there is a little bit of fine print here. As it turns out, the more frequently we curse, the less emotionally potent these words become. This translates into your physical reaction as well. Which means if you curse like a sailor all damn day, then when you drop a slew of f-bombs after stubbing your toe, their pain-dampening effect won’t be nearly as strong as the girl who sits 3 desks down from you at the office and only says ‘snickerdoodles’ when she gets a paper cut. When she finally lets a good four-letter friend fall from her lips, the effect will be stronger. If you over-use your curse words, you are left with just plain words. You’ll be like Tony Stark without the Iron Man suite- it might do something, but it won’t be enough. So please, swear responsibly my friends.

Friday the 13th: the Myth, the Legend, the Legacy

Gloom, despair and agony on me

Deep dark depression, excessive misery

If it weren’t for bad luck I’d have no luck at all

Gloom, despair and agony on me

In 1976, a New Yorker named Daz Baxter was reportedly so afraid of Friday the 13th that he opted to play it safe and stay in bed where no harm could befall him. That same day he was was killed when the floor of his apartment building collapsed. Coincidence, or is this date fated to truly exude the madness and mayhem of the unlucky?

In 1993 the British Medical Journal published an article aptly titled ‘Is Friday the 13th Bad for Your Heath?’ The goal of the researchers was to determine the relationship between health, behavior and superstition surrounding this particular day in the U.K. To do this they opted to review hospital admissions stemming from auto accidents, while taking into account the volume of traffic, on two different Fridays: the 6th and the 13th. Now, surprisingly, there were consistently fewer people who braved the roads on the 13th, and yet hospital admission for accidents was significantly higher, showing an increased risk of 52% when compared to the 6th. But is this a sign of the unlucky spirit of the day, or a simple matter of psychology where we believe we are unlucky, and therefore we fulfil our own prophecy?

There is a name for those who fear this day, a name that causes my soul to squirm and shiver when attempting to pronounce it: paraskevidekatriaphobia. Today I went on a quest to discover the origins of this little holiday that captures the imagination and inspires many horror films and scary stories. What I found was surprising, and perhaps a bit vague. So grab a drink and let’s break it down.

The infamous number 13:

The theories and negative associations surrounding this number are plentiful. If 13 people sit down to dine, the first to rise will be soon to die. The Turks had such a fear of this number that it became practically nonexistent in their language. It takes 13 witches to make up a full coven. If you have 13 letters in your name, then you have the devil’s luck. Want a few examples to think over after you have counted the letters in your own? Jack the Ripper, Charles Manson, Jeffrey Dahmer, Theodore Bundy, Albert De Salvo (the Boston stranger), Aileen Wuornos (murdered 7 men in one year and said she’d do it again), Saddam Hussein, Lavinia Fisher (the first American serial killer who poisoned guests at her boarding house), Osama bin Laden; I am sure the list goes on. The fear of 13 has even carried into our modern society; many cities do not have a 13th street or avenue, and many building don’t possess a 13th floor.

Now, not all cultures despise the number. The Chinese always regarded it as lucky, as did the Egyptians in the time of the pharaohs. Even today: I am a big fan of a baker’s dozen where I can get 13 tasty treats instead of 12. But why is there a general dislike of something as unassuming as a number across history and cultures?

To answer that in part, we have to take it back to the Egyptians. Remember how I said that they thought it was a lucky number? Egyptians believed that life itself was meant to be a quest for spiritual ascension, as do so many religions. They believed that this spiritual journey could be broken down into stages; 12 in this life and the 13th beyond, which they viewed as their eternal afterlife. As such, they associated 13 with death, but in their views it was meant as a desirable and glorious thing. As time passed and subsequent cultures rose and fell, the original association between the number thirteen and the nature of death remained strong. What weakened, however, was the light that it was viewed in. People forgot the spiritual context of a happy and glorious afterlife, and began to fill in that empty space with their internal fears of death itself. That fear bred a mistrust and general distaste for the number it was connected with.

Another theory centering around the vilification of the number 13, interestingly enough, ties into the ever raging battle of the sexes. The number 13 represented femininity and was revered within prehistoric worship. As an example, it can be seen in a Stone Age carving known as the earth mother of Laussel, found near the Lascaux caves in France and is often cited as an iconic matriarchal spirit. This carving depicts a female figure holding a crescent-shaped horn that bears 13 notches. The number 13 corresponds to the number of lunar (menstraul) cycles in a year. It is thought that the matriarchal number fell out of favor as many societies and religions found themselves leaning more towards a patriarchal viewpoint. 


The religious connotations related to the number 13 carry over into Christianity as well. The predominate story is centered around the Last Supper. There were thirteen in attendance. One of the disciples then betrayed Jesus Christ, leading to the crucifixion. To add an interesting twist, shall I mention the fact that the crucifixion itself was said to take place on a Friday? Ah yes, it appears that the plot thickens. Let us carry on with this thread.

The Fear of Friday:

Personally, I have never been afraid of Friday, nay, I revere and uphold this day as the oh-so-sacred end point of my working week, and my occasional day for lovely happy hours filled with hummus plates, cheesy tots and blue moons at my favorite Irish pub. But the love for this day has not always existed.

Old wives tales and general theory abound when it comes to this particular day of the week. It is said that if you change the bed on a Friday it will bring you bad dreams. Cutting your nails will lead to bad luck and sorrow. If you start a trip on a Friday you will encounter misfortune. Relating to this, ships that set sail on this day will encounter bad luck. There is even an urban myth stating that the Royal Navy once attempted to dispel this fear amongst their sailors so they created the H.M.S Friday. The story goes that they made a point to handle all major events on Fridays; they commissioned and named the ship, laid the keel, launched the vessel, selected the crew and captain, and embarked on its maiden voyage- all on separate Fridays just to prove the point that the superstitious fear was unfounded. The story concludes that, once it set sail, the ship was never seen or heard from again. This story survived under the guise of fact for many years and was spread through such notable publications as ‘The Reader’s Digest’ before additional research was done to conclude that the ship itself never actually existed. 

So once again, where does this fear stem from? Once again, there are deep ties to religion when it comes to the fear of a Friday. In terms of Christianity, Fridays were generally no-good, awful, very bad days. As I mentioned before, the crucifixion is said to have taken place on this day. It is also believed that Adam and Eve were expelled from the Garden of Eden on a Friday, the Great Flood, the tying of tongues at the Tower of Babel, the destruction of the Temple of Solomon; all took place on Fridays. 

It was also considered a sabbath day in many other pre-Christian religions. This meant that when Christianity took hold in many of these territories, that day became somewhat vilified by the father’s of the church due to its ‘heathen associations.’ In an attempt to discredit the day and ensure that fellow christians would not begin to follow the practice of a Friday sabbath, it was decried the ‘witch’s sabbath,’ a distasteful connotation in a superstitious era.

Another tie to the witchy word happens to stem from its very name. The word Friday is derived from a Norse deity who was worshipped on the 6th day. Depending on the story you read, she was either known as Frigga (the goddess of marriage and fertility), or Freya (the goddess of sex and fertility). These two dieties became intertwined with one another throughout the myths, and are still difficult to differentiate. The goddesses are associated with Venus, the Roman goddess of love. This association meant that those who believed in her felt that Friday was an especially lucky day to get married, as it was her day. Once again, this was to change when Christianity made it to the show. As I said earlier, it discredit the heathen practices. It was re-named the witch’s sabbath. During this vilification process, Freya herself was depicted as a witch. Alongside her, her sacred animal, the cat, was rebranded as the witch’s pet, an association that maintains to this day. From then on, Freya’s day of love was recast as a day of evil intentions and ill omens.

It was not just religion that cast a dark pallor over the day, however. These undertones existed in other cultures as well, thought wether by coincidence or design is yet unknown. It became a recognized day of death. In pagan Rome it was their execution day, which morphed into Hangman’s Day in Britain. The bloody stains could not be easily washed from the fabric of our beloved Friday.

What Brought Friday and the 13th Together at Last?

So we have two separate histories marked by fear and apprehension. But what brought these two together in solemn matrimony? That’s hard to tell, though theories abound. One, admittedly not my personal favorite, circles back to our undercurrent of religion. This concept has arisen in well-published novels, such as The DaVinci Code. The theory itself surrounds historical events, in the form of the decimation and mass arrests of the Knights Templar, which took place on Friday the 13th. Now, I’m not going to spend extensive time on this theory because I don’t find it particularly compelling or plausible. At the time, the events were not cast as a major event, and they would have had little effect over the superstitions and colloquial terminology of the day. While religion has a strong holding over the original superstitions of the two separately, I don’t think they can claim credit for the joining of the ideas.

Another belief stems from a book published in 1907, written by Thomas Lawson. It is simply titled ‘Friday, the Thirteenth,’ and is about dirty dealings in the stock market. It sold relatively well for its time, and some have attributed the origins of the real Friday the 13th to this book. Though in actuality, it appears unlikely that the author came up with the idea himself, as the context of the story nods to the idea of the unlucky day as being one already known in the public conscious. Though, there is a good likelihood that he helped spread its universality. So for that we can thank him (or curse him, depending on your personal beliefs).

Personally, I follow a simple theory, though far less romantic; that people noticed a similar thread between the two and noticed when they coincided on a calendar. Think about it; Friday’s have historically been viewed as unlucky. The 13th has been viewed in the same light. So it stands to reason that when you combine the two, you come up with unlucky multiplied by two. When viewing a calendar it would be easy to spot the anomaly, and given people’s perceptions of the two distinct ideas, it isn’t a far stretch to assume that they would then view the day as one to be doubly dreaded. After all, in the 1898 edition of the ‘Dictionary of Phrase and Fable’ there is no mention of Friday the 13th, though there are separate sections listed for each unlucky title. It wasn’t until later editions that they were combined under one heading. This seems to be a natural progression in the superstitious trends.

This year we will see two occassions to fear the day; the first is right here in January, and our next is nestled snugly in October, a rather fitting month if you ask me. So whether you are one to march boldly out your front door and dare the day to do its worst, or whether you prefer to roll up in bubble wrap and avoid public transportation for the intervening 24 hours, may you be safe and have fun. Just remember, our fears have only the amount of power we grant them. 

Lush-Us Lessons: The Coldest Village on Earth

Today all of us here at Tipsy Typer are thrilled to announce the return of an old segment that accidentally slipped through the cracks a few months ago. And by ‘all of us’ I mean me and my cat, who is currently snoring on my lap- but don’t let that fool you, Oreo is still very excited. That’s right the segment is coming back with a vengeance and a new name: Lush-Us Lessons. Get it? Lush-Us, since this is Tipsy Typer, it seemed fitting to me. Anyway, the name is different, but the intent is the same. Once a week I will be picking a random topic and start dropping knowledge like The Walking Dead drops cast members (RIP my friends, you will be missed). Perhaps you will find some inspiration in these pages, or, at the very least, you will be entertained for a little while.

I am one of those annoying creatures that loves when it’s cold, but hates actually being cold. Which means when the winter weather hits I am bundled up like the little boy in ‘A Christmas Story’- I’ll  put my arms down when I get to work, thank you very much.

christmas-story-cant-put-my-arms-down

But there is a village out there where no amount of bundling will keep that chill from seeping into your bones, that’s right, even Elsa herself wouldn’t be able to keep up with this place. Let me introduce you to Oymyakon, a little village located in a valley of northeastern Russia, not far from the Arctic Circle along the Indigirka River. It is a remote village, the nearest town is a 3-day drive away. It’s name is a bit misleading- ‘Omyakon’ actually means ‘non-freezing water,’ and was taken due to the close proximity of a hot spring. But the area is also known as the ‘Pole of the Cold,’ it is the coldest permanently inhabited settlement in the entire world. In January this little ice haven averages at -50º Celsius (-58º F for those of you who were taught the same system as I was). Although they did set a new record in February of 2013 by dropping all the way down to -71º C ( this translates to an astonishing -95.8º F, according to google, because I don’t really remember how to convert temperatures on my own). To put that number into perspective, jet fuel will free at -40º C. And sadly, if you were planning on warming yourself up with a dash of some 80 proof vodka, it would have turned into a vod-cycle at a lowly -26.95º C. And don’t think about going streaking after visiting what has been called ‘the loneliest bar in the world’ because you wont survive long enough to say ‘maybe this was a bad idea.’ Although you might make a lovely ice statue.

oymyakon-coldest-village-town-pole-of-cold

If you have ever had a desire to go cold-turkey (no pun intended) to get off the grid- this is the place that you need to go. Most modern conveniences that we take for granted wont even work in an environment this cold. Locals have to either keep their cars parked in heated garages (unlikely, given the economic conditions), or keep them running because leaving them off for even a short period of time could result in some serious mechanic bills coming out of your pocket, usually due to frozen grease or fuel tanks, and any unused pipes will freeze within 5 hours.

oymy

Want to take some selfies as you walk through town on your Frozen adventure? Unfortunately, there will be a good possibility that your phone will be dead, as they cannot function in those temperatures. Batteries are not designed to work under such extreme conditions and will lose their charge at an astounding rate. To the people who live there full time- this really isn’t that big of a deal because they are in such a remote area that they aren’t eligible for cell service anyways. Most electronics, especially any that run off of batteries, will have to fight for their life out here. Spoiler: they’ll lose. Even the ink in your pen isn’t safe- that has been known to freeze solid. And, if you happen to require glasses like I do- you will be warned against wearing them because they will actually freeze to your face in this climate. Yes, you heard me right, though it bears repeating: your glasses will freeze to your face. Personally, I am a bit terrified to ask what would happen if you opted for contact lenses.

oymy2

Another problem faced by these inhabitants: burying their dead. This already difficult time becomes compounded, as it can take up to three days to dig the grave. Bonfires must be lit for several hours and then the hot coals are pushed to the side so that the people can begin to dig while it is relatively soft. They are usually only able to make it down a few inches before the process has to be started again. This is repeated over and over until the hole is large enough to accommodate a coffin (or your frozen streaker friend).

oymy3

Most modern conveniences are rare, and in many homes, you will still see people trekking to an outhouse to relieve themselves. The solitary school itself didn’t even possess an indoor toilet until 2008. Homes and buildings are still heated with coal and wood burning. If power ceases, the town will shut down in about five hours and pipes will begin to freeze and crack. The people survive primarily on reindeer and horse meat because- well, good luck getting anything to grow. The length of the days will vary from a scant 3 hours in December, but will stretch to 21 hours in the summer. While winters are, by all accounts, awful, summers can get a bit warmer, even attracting tourists to the surrounding forest. Their record ‘heat wave’ once brought them all the way up to 65.7º F, although the land itself technically remains permanently frozen year round.

There is a current population of about 500 people, with one solitary store to supply all of their needs and one school to teach their children. Now, as a comfort-seeker myself, I can’t help but wonder what brought these people out there to this land that is believed to belong to ‘Stalin’s Death Ring,’ named such because it was the region where political exiles were sent. Back in the 1920’s and 30’s, this little area was a stop-over for reindeer herders who would water their flocks from the thermal springs the village is now named after. At some point, the Soviet government was making an effort to settle their nomadic populations. They believed that the people of this area were difficult to control and were culturally and technologically backwards. So they came up with a quick fix, they allowed the people to stay and made the site a permanent settlement. To this day the residents still make a living with reindeer breeding, hunting and ice fishing.

Tourists make their way to the village with a deep desire to experience this record setting environment for themselves. There are no hotels, but you will find several families who are willing to house guests, in fact, they traditionally love to have visitors. If you wish, you can be invited to partake in many of their daily activities, which include reindeer hunting, ice-fishing, and there is even a possibility of going to the hot spring (please sign me up for that one, I will never leave). The mayor himself will give any guest a certificate to celebrate their visit to the ‘Pole of the Cold.’

oymy10

While the prospect sounds intimidating (like I said, I am a complete and total baby in the cold), the experience sounds like a once in a lifetime adventure. And while I don’t know if I will ever be brave enough to don piles of fur (which is the only way to stay warm- not strictly a fashion choice) to brave the outdoors and discover this beautifully hidden gem, I can’t help but find myself amazed that we live in a world where this is possible. And I can’t help but be thankful that I live in a place where I can indulge myself in the creature comforts that I so often take for granted.

 

The Neuroscience of Negativity (if you cant say anything nice…)

Last night I was at happy hour with a group of friends, there were nine of us total, carrying on a myriad of different conversations over yummy food and good drinks at our favorite Irish pub. By the end of the night, our numbers had whittled down to four. We were telling stories and venting a bit to one another when a man walked by our table and started talking to us. When he got us all to smile he clinked glasses and went on his way. When he came back through about fifteen minutes later he made a comment along the lines of ‘now what do I want to see?’ until we were all laughing and giving him the smile he asked for. While it was a fairly insignificant moment, it got me thinking about perception that others receive of us. It is all too common for us to spend a night gossiping and sharing stories of our weekly frustrations while laughing over a few drinks, and while I have never actually viewed this activity in a negative way (after all, we are usually laughing and making jokes the entire time), I couldn’t help but stop and think about the underlying stories: mainly, the weekly frustrations that life will bring and how we deal with those.

I generally try to be a positive person; I do my best to put on an optimistic front even when I don’t feel it inside because worrying others wont do anyone any good. Some days I have the fire burning inside already and nothing is going to get in the way of my good mood; but other days I have to remind myself, I have to build myself up to it. I’ve noticed that I have a harder time doing this with those that I am close to. I vent, I complain, I occasionally gossip- I do a lot of things that I’m not necessarily proud of. I fall into the negativity pit and all of the typical reasoning that comes with it. I tell myself that getting these negative feelings off of my chest will make me feel better. But, as it turns out, that is a bit of flawed thinking on my part. The truth is, the only thing that negative thinking will get you is more negative thinking. Don’t believe me? Just ask science.

Let me get my lab coat on (I don’t know why you want me to do this, I’m really not qualified to be teaching this class. Although last year I did read ‘Do Zombies Dream of Undead Sheep’- neuroscience explained through the afflictions of the zombie-kind). But, I’m dressed for the part and I wear glasses- that must make me a reputable teacher. Lesson one of neuroscience: synapses that fire together wire together. Let’s start off by explaining how this whole process works; now, the brain is a complicated creation that I wont even pretend to understand. So this overview isn’t going to be particularly technical.

Nerve cells make connections with one another in circuits that we refer to as neural pathways. These nerve cells, however, never actually touch, they just get very close together. If you have siblings, then the best example of this is when you would sit in the back of the car and they would hover their finger right over your face saying ‘but I’m not touching you’ whenever you tried to shoo them away. Unless that was just my childhood? Anyway, back to the lesson: So you have two very close neurons that cannot make physical contact. So how to they pass messages from one to the other?  (Fifty points to Gryffindor if you get it right before reading ahead). Answer: Through the synapse! Ah sure, but what the heck is that? Well, I’m glad you asked. A synapse is a structure that allows one neuron to pass an electrical or chemical signal to another neuron over a gap known as the synaptic cleft. They are vitally important, essentially acting as the pathway for your thoughts. Now, the body is an amazing example of efficiency. Whenever you have a thought (like you are right now), a synapse will shoot a chemical across the cleft to another synapse (think Spiderman slinging string to the building across the street), which effectively ‘builds a bridge’ that an electrical signal can then cross over. This signal carries the information that is pertinent to your thought. (I don’t know why, but I always picture a super secret FBI agent with a briefcase full of top secret documents.)

synapses

Now, as I said before, the body is nothing if not economical. You see, every time an electric signal gets triggered, the synapses involved start to grow closer together in an effort to make their job easier. Their goal is to decrease the distance that the signal has to pass over to get from Point A to Point B. To keep the FBI analogy; its much easier to transport your top secret information from one room to another, as opposed to hopping in a car and driving across town. Isn’t that amazing? The brain will literally rewire its own circuitry to make it easier for you. It physically changes its internal map to line up the proper synapses together, effectively making it easier for that particular thought to trigger.

To put this in perspective of your daily life: think of some of those recurring habits you have: do you compulsively check your phone or social media? I bet it started with you getting bored and poking on your phone once or twice. But over time this compulsion grew, and pretty soon you are opening it and poking around on Facebook with virtually no thought behind it. You didn’t even realize you were doing it, but you were literally programming yourself to follow these habits. The shorter distance between the synapses makes these recurring thoughts more likely to occur. You are conditioning yourself for specific behaviors and thoughts- and you don’t even know you are doing it. Starts to make a bit more sense, doesn’t it?

This process can be a phenomenal asset- if you use it correctly. When you fall into the trap of bad thinking though; it is a dangerous weapon. You see, when you start thinking negatively or listening to negative speech- your brain is programming itself to follow this trend, those synapses are getting closer together and making it easier for that negative thought to reappear again. These close synapses not only make negative thoughts easier to come by, they also make it more likely for other negative thoughts to just randomly occur throughout your day, like when you are walking down the street without anything in particular on your mind (Scary, isn’t it?). Basically, by sinking into this thought pattern you are changing your personality to a gloomier outlook. As Steven Parton explains, “Through repetition of thought, you’ve brought the pair of synapses that represent your [negative] proclivities closer and closer together, and when the moment arises for you to form a thought…the thought that wins is the one that has less distance to travel, the one that will create a bridge between synapses fastest.” It is literally a race for thoughts.

This is not just an internal dilemma; suddenly it becomes very important who you surround yourself with. Humans are notoriously empathetic creatures (though it doesn’t always seem that way).During our evolution our survival hinged on the connections we could make with others. We are a species that thrive in small groups. What is the easiest way to make a connection? Through shared experiences and emotions. It’s in our wiring; when we see someone in an emotional state- good or bad, our own brains try that feeling on for size; by that, I mean that it tries to imagine what the other person is experiencing. Have you ever watched a video of people laughing? Something so simple- try not to smile yourself when you watch it. The reason why it’s so hard: your brain wants to relate to them, it wants to mirror their emotions to find common ground. How does it delve into this imagined world? Well, it fires those synapses, of course- attempting to emulate what it is seeing in the other person, effectively allowing you to ‘relate’ to them. Ever hear of ‘mob mentality’? Well, this is where that comes from- good or bad, we want to have common ground with other people. This explains the hype we all collectively begin to feel at a concert or sporting event- or the way we vent exhaustively at happy hour with our best friends.

You follow the same thought patterns as those around you; that’s why toxic relationships can be so potent and drag you down so quickly. That is also why you feel so refreshed and energized by that ‘happy friend’ you have who doesn’t seem to be effected by the negativity of life. I have a friend from high school who I only get to see a few times a year because we both live busy lives on opposite sides of the state. But every time I see her, I feel like a better person, I admire her outlook on life, it is contagious. My advice- hold onto these friends, do not lose touch. Find people that you want to be like and embrace their outlook. Look at yourself and decide which person you want to be- do you want people to walk away refreshed because of your attitude, or do you want to complain about the daunting trivialities of your daily life. You have a choice- the brain is an amazing creation; if it is capable of wiring itself one way, it is also capable of going in the other direction.

My fiancé has a trick that he learned a while ago; you write your goals or positive thoughts on a notecard. You read it in the morning when you first wake up and right before you go to bed. You carry it with you in your wallet and read it whenever you need to remind yourself. Why does this work? Because you are actively reminding yourself to think these thoughts, effectively forcing your brain to rewire itself to promote this new way of thinking. It moves those synapses closer together so that it becomes your default thinking, eventually weeding out those negative thoughts you once fought with.

At the end of the day, it is up to you how you will see the world. You get to determine which synapses fire together. You get the colors to shade your world in. Bright or dreary- the world is your canvas. At least now you understand why you may fall into these ruts, and you know how to get out of them. You can also understand why your outlook will not just change overnight. It takes a conscious effort to rewire a new way of thinking. Knowledge is power, as they say. Use it wisely, my friends.