Be happy, and learn!

Kathy Sierra of "Creating passionate users" has an interesting article, "Angry/negative people can be bad for your brain."

Basically, it's that emotions are contagious, or you become like who you associate with. Of course, folklore wisdom already has this concept, as in "birds of a feather flock together." Our ESL/EFL students pick up the accent of their instructors, albeit influenced by their own language. However, folklore, as she notes, also has notions that are wrong, or at least suspect in their application:

And there's this one we hear most often, especially in reference to comment moderation--"if you can't say whatever the hell you want to express your anger, you can't be authentic and honest." While that may be true, here's what the psychologists say:

"Psychologists now say that this is a dangerous myth. Some people use this theory as a license to hurt others. Research has found that "letting it rip" with anger actually escalates anger and aggression and does nothing to help you (or the person you're angry with) resolve the situation.

It's best to find out what it is that triggers your anger, and then to develop strategies to keep those triggers from tipping you over the edge."

In the case of folklore on being happy, Kathy brings in research supporting it, research on mirror neurons and emotional contagion. The importance of protecting one's happiness cannot be underestimated:

So, when Robert [Scoble] says he wants to spend time hanging around "happy people" and keeping his distance from "deeply unhappy" people, he's keeping his brain from making--over the long term--negative structural and chemical changes. Regarding the effect of mirror neurons and emotional contagion on personal performance, neurologist Richard Restak offers this advice:

"If you want to accomplish something that demands determination and endurance, try to surround yourself with people possessing these qualities. And try to limit the time you spend with people given to pessimism and expressions of futility. Unfortunately, negative emotions exert a more powerful effect in social situations than positive ones, thanks to the phenomena of emotional contagion."

This sounds harsh, and it is, but it's his recommendation based on the facts as the neuroscientists interpret them today. This is not new age self-help--it's simply the way brains work.

Kathy also touches on the fact that happiness is good for one's health, which I had read about. One study, for instance, showed that positive emotions were "associated with greater resistance to developing a common cold" What I didn't know was that it improved one's reasoning. She writes:

Happines is associated most heavily with the left (i.e. logical) side of the brain, while anger is associated with the right (emotional, non-logical) side of the brain. From a Society for Neuroscience article on Bliss and the Brain:

"Furthermore, studies suggest that certain people's ability to see life through rose-colored glasses links to a heightened left-sided brain function. A scrutiny of brain activity indicates that individuals with natural positive dispositions have trumped up activity in the left prefrontal cortex compared with their more negative counterparts. "

In other words, happy people are better able to think logically.

A key work here is "suggest," meaning that it's not ironclad. Other factors are likely involved. The two studies I keep quoting clearly show that inflexibility in one's position shuts off thinking. Is it possible to be happily inflexible?

Perhaps, this is rather simplistic, but I'm wondering if happiness in general can lead to being better able to learn. That is, Is being better able to think logically related to, or does it lead to, being better able to learn? Lots of questions. No answers right now.