What determines our response to crisis?

by midlifecrisisqueen on March 21, 2013

For as long as I can remember I have been searching for a better understanding of how our brains determine whether to make us happy or sad.  Why do some of us find strength in adversity, while others give up?  Now I’ve found a book that helps me understand this phenomenon much better.

Rainy Brain, Sunny Brain: How to Retrain Your Brain to Overcome Pessimism and Achieve a More Positive Outlook by Elaine Fox is a fascinating summary of recent research on this topic.

Whether we can gather ourselves together and emerge stronger from a crisis or whether we are bowled over by setbacks, ruminating endlessly on the negative, is influenced   by whether our sunny or our rainy brain circuits dominate.”

According to psychologist and neuroscientist Elaine Fox, our outlook on life reflects our primal inclination to seek pleasure or avoid danger, and these inclinations are usually fairly well balanced.  But when our “fear brain” or “pleasure brain” dominate, the results can be disastrous.  We may  suffer from debilitating shyness, addiction, depression, or anxiety.

Luckily, anyone suffering from these afflictions will find new hope in many new discoveries.  Stunning breakthroughs in neuroscience show that our brains are more malleable than we ever imagined.  In Rainy Brain, Sunny Brain, Fox describes a range of techniques—from traditional cognitive behavioral therapy to innovative cognitive-retraining exercises—that can actually alter our brains’ circuitry, strengthening specific thought processes by exercising the neural systems that control them.

The implications are enormous!  Lifelong pessimists may be able to train themselves to think positively and find happiness, while pleasure-seekers inclined toward risky or destructive behavior may now take control over their impulses.

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