A Journey through the Mental Health Benefits of Positive Thinking

Several years ago – at the beginning of the global pandemic rocked the emotional, mental and scientific world – I stumbled across the claim that the word “Crisis” in Mandarin Chinese was represented by two characters: one for “danger” and the other for “opportunity”. Not wanting to be naïve, I did a bit of research, and found that even President John F Kennedy had referenced this fact.

Upon learning this, my immediate was thought “well, how perfect is that?”. So often we hear the claim [made famous by Charles R Swindoll] that “Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it”, yet here is an entire culture that literally puts the theory into everyday life practice by incorporating it into their language.

… and just yesterday, I was sent this article from the Hannah Arendt Center for Politics and Humanities at Bard College in New York, which makes the claim that JFK was misinformed, and crisis actually translates to weiji, which – when broken down – means both “danger” and “crucial point (when something begins or changes)”. The argument is that JFK [and multiple others] felt that that sentiment is far too negative, and that it’s more productive to think positively… but, the article argues “a weiji [actually] indicates a perilous situation when one should be especially wary. It is not a juncture when one goes looking for advantages and benefits.”

When two people go to the same event, and walk away having two totally different experiences

Now, I don’t know about you, dear reader, but whenever I’ve heard of the story of two people going to a party and walking away having had two completely different experiences, I’ve been fascinated.

It’s so easy for media outlets [especially social media], educators, thought leaders and even therapists to focus on “positive thinking”, or the importance of “stepping away” from negative thinking, and “negative emotions”, and leaning in to “positive self talk” and “positive emotions”… but when so often we are met with warnings that we should be wary, and not seek for a positive outlook, it’s no wonder why the above article [and similar] get written.

I’m not trying to be a nay-sayer here… and I’m certainly not trying to dog the person who self-identifies as a “realist”, but seriously. How exhausting must it be to live in a world where you’re constantly feeling like you’re either walking on egg shells, or fighting an uphill battle, when we can just as easily turn our wariness into a slightly more positive outlook and lean into hope, opportunity, and the recognition that there really can be – and often are – blessings in the mess.

Let’s take this back to COVID…

Always Look on the Bright Side of Life

Whether you’re looking at the Chinese representation of the word “Crisis”, or you’re looking at the yin and yang symbol, the sun and moon… everything has balance in the world. The moon can’t shine without the sun. The light can’t exist without the dark. The art of learning cannot take place without failure.

Yet we, as humans, have a tendency to get stuck in negative self talk and negative thinking, claiming that it’s just “keeping it real”. However, the mere act of positive thinking isn’t about ignoring the negative aspects of the world, or the negative thoughts that sometimes come to visit. Positive people take the time to recognize and understand those negative thoughts, but turn their attention so much towards the beauty of the world that the negative thoughts simply pale in comparison.

For example:

Two people can wake up in the morning to see it raining outside. One person’s response is anger or upset because “no one likes the rain”. The second person, however, revels in the fact that the plants, trees and flowers will be so much happier now that they have water.

Same situation… two completely different outlooks.

Another example:

Two people can each receive a compliment that they look particularly lovely that day. The first person can be gracious, thanking the person delivering the compliment for noticing their effort. The second person, however, can respond by retorting “what? So I didn’t look good yesterday?”

Same compliment… two completely different responses.

Third example:

A global pandemic can erupt across the world. One person can fall into a state of stressed and negative thinking: worrying about their business and their ruined plans. The second person can, instead, pour their energy into looking after their mental health, physical health, and creating a healthy lifestyle for themselves, and their families, as well as building businesses or adjusting their workplaces to be sustainable from home, or online.

Same experience – completely different responses.

NOTE: I’m in no way saying that the past few years haven’t been tumultuous, heartbreaking and scary…. I’m simply suggesting that there are more than one way to reflect on 2020 and beyond in a way that doesn’t put negative thinking at the forefront of our cognitive responses.

In other words:

When life gives us lemons, there are multiple ways to make use of them. Make lemonade… grab the tequila… get creative. We don’t need to stay in the wary or the danger zone. We can choose to look at the opportunities the lemons give us.

But this isn’t just about choosing positive.

Because there are so many health benefits that come from positive thinking…

Yep. Choosing to look at the opportunities that come from crises, as opposed to the danger or perilous situation can lead to a number of health benefits:

  • Feeling less stressed in stressful situations

  • Reduced risk of death / increased life span

  • Improved immune system – especially beneficial when it comes to getting a common cold, or even COVID

  • Increased cardiovascular health [especially important if there’s a family history of cardiovascular disease and heart attack]

  • Healthier relationships

  • Improved sleep

  • Improved positive self talk – and therefore increased confidence

It’s easy to fall back on the idea that being wary is simply being “realistic”, but so often that “realism” evolves into negative self talk, having a negative outlook on the world, and – eventually – an increased risk of stress, heart disease, and mental health struggles.

That’s not how I want anyone to live their life

So… how does the role of music and songwriting play into all of this?

Everyone has a different journey to take when it comes to learning how to stop negative self talk, developing positive thinking skills, or even simply improving our own mental health- and physical well being.

For many of us, physical exercise is crucial for the journey to wellness. Our daily life habits are also imperative to analyze and adjust. Who we associate with in our social lives is also a key part to ensuring mental health positivity.

But one of the best ways I’ve learned to establish healthy habits is through the use of repetition and enjoyment… and what better way to enjoy yourself than through the realm of music – especially if that music is also filled with positive thoughts and ideas.

This is one of the reasons why I’ve always used music to help me transform affirmations into songs… or as a tool to refocus negative self talk into empowering and positive self talk.

Once I knew how to use the tools and tricks of songwriting properly, I was able to turn the trauma of 2020, and the pandemic into an emotional-, spiritual-, and physical health journey.

I was even able to cognitively reframe having a traumatic brain injury into multiple anthems of surviving, thriving and unapologetic positivity. [Music also helps immensely with our brain function – but more on that in my TEDx Talk, which you can watch here].

But this isn’t about me.

The struggle to find and focus on positive thoughts amidst crisis, or recognizing the blessings in life’s lessons can be a difficult one… but it’s possible. As the philosopher Plato said “music gives wings to the mind and flight to the imagination”… and, with the right guidance, that flight could – and should – lead to resilience, healing, and your own mental and emotional well being.

But it’s possible.

And I’d love to help.

If you’re curious about turning your struggles into song, and refocusing the crises into – quite literally – an upbeat attitude, I’d love to speak with you about how I can help.

Click here to book a call with me about what it would look like to write your life theme song[s], and make it a masterpiece.

I look forward to speaking with you soon.

Emma G

Who is Emma G?

TEDx Speaker, Singer/songwriter and Youth Empowerment Coach Emma G has been using the power of music to empower, uplift and motivate audiences worldwide her entire life.

Born with a rare neurological condition called hydrocephalus, Emma G has used music to recover from multiple traumas, including ten brain surgeries, by writing and singing her truth, sharing her experiences, and turning her lessons into blessings. With a unique style that marries the styles of pop, soulful ballads, and a gritty rock edge, Emma G’s style appeals to a hugely diverse audience worldwide.

A favorite musician of the Washington Post, Washingtonian Magazine and Thrive Global: the New Zealand-born singer/songwriter has expanded her mission of saving the world one song at a time to incorporate her history as an award-winning youth-worker, launching YES Youth Coaching. Youth Empowerment through Songwriting coaching is a completely new approach to youth work: combining Emma G’s history as a teacher, lecturer, YMCA youth coordinator and – of course – an award-winning musician.

Music is an incredibly effective tool for alchemy: helping audiences and teen songwriters alike overcome struggles, trauma, stress and overwhelm with songs of overcoming, resilience, self-love and stepping into one’s power.

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