Meditation and Optimism Healthy Mind

Meditation and optimism can make a healthy mind and increase life expectancy according to a new documentary, but does it also mean hiding from reality and neglecting your human duty?

Anglo Saxon: Frontal lobe, gyri and sulci
Frontal lobe, gyri and sulci (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Hi, it’s Stephen Wolfing, science correspondent at the Greenygrey. I was reminded of my recent mind, brain and psychology (with a nice greenygrey gyrisulci image just found!) blog by a recent Horizon documentary that featured Michael Mosley investigating how meditation and optimism can add years to your life. It’s available in the U.K. on BBCiplayer until 10pm Wednesday 17th July; don’t know about other availability.

Michael Mosley’s Mind Meditates

Despite seemingly having a nice life, Mosley revealed he was prone to pessimism and depression; resulting in anxiety, insomnia and neuroticism.

This was shown in a brain scan revealing cerebral assymetry: filtering the world more through the right side of his brain’s frontal cortex, which is associated with negativity:


The right side of the brain is also associated with creativity of course, with the left side of the brain associated with logic.

Maybe that is why negative events in people’s lives can result in great bursts of creativity: because the right side of the brain is so active.

Over the course of the documentary Mosley meditated and tried to build a more positive outlook. By the end of the documentary Mosley said he felt better, and a brain scan revealed his frontal cortex correlated with this.

There was more symmetry between left and right: positive and negative:


Avoiding Bad News and Negativity

While meditation and a positive outlook benefitted Michael Mosley’s mind; a comfortable middle-aged scientific celebrity who should really be happy; maybe it wouldn’t work for people who have pressing problems outside their mind: such as a lack of work and money.

And building a more positive outlook might also mean avoiding bad news. There is a nasty side to the human and natural world out there if you look for it, or you can largely avoid it by not following the news and current affairs. 242 cover

This is the wisdom to news ignorance (avoiding bad news) Marc Latham wrote a Folding Mirror poem about on the site, and that is included in his 242 Mirror Poems and Reflections book.

Sacrificing Happiness to Try Making a Difference

People who work in human and animal welfare charities, or join the army and go to a conflict zone; that are always exposed to the negative side to the world; should be more prone to depression. This is supported by the recent news story about British armed forces suicide rates.

Exposing yourself to the danger of depression I suppose depends on how much ‘negativity’ you think you can take, and how much you feel the urge to try and make a difference. Most humans seem to have that urge for a few years, before family and regular work becomes the main concern, and social philanthropy becomes a sideline.

Meditation and seeking happiness can seem selfish in the modern world, but if everybody was doing it, maybe there wouldn’t be the social problems that make people feel they need to risk happiness to make a difference.

Scenes of Inner Taksang, temple hall, built ju...
Scenes of Inner Taksang, temple hall, built just above the cave where Padmasambhava meditated (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Risking happiness should also depend on how likely you are to be successful in making a positive difference. Thinking you’re making a difference should increase morale and mood. However, if you’re exposing yourself to negativity, and don’t think you’re achieving anything, that is likely to cause depression.

There have always been causes to support, and there always will be. I hope people will continue supporting human and animal welfare charities, and doing the right thing as they see it, but I wouldn’t encourage people to go further than they think they can handle. I don’t think I could work in charities regularly exposed to real and filmed cruelty… and not be depressed.

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