Friday, September 4, 2009


By Suma Varughese

Positive thinking is not a new concept, but in recent decades it has been increasingly gaining currency among the global populace. There is almost a consensus on the value of consciously cultivating positive thinking for individual health, happiness and success

A friend is undergoing surgery as I write this, but she chose not to let any of us know about it. When the news inadvertently reached a mutual friend who called her to commiserate, she was not enthusiastic. She agreed to disclose it only on the condition that we do not call her. She wanted some peace and quiet, she said. This might seem an attempt to bury her head in the sand. But I know my friend's quiet courage and self-awareness too much to suspect this to be the motive. I figure that she wants to spare herself the concern, anxiety and false bonhomie all of us are bound to express. No matter how well meaning, such gestures are invariably fuelled by fear and dread, emotions that she could well do without.

It made me think of the negativity we load our lives with and how counter-productive it is. Take the US-Taliban confrontation. Whether we feel anger at the Americans or at Osama bin Laden, or sorrow at the meaningless deaths, first of the Americans and now of the helpless Afghans, we flood the situation with negativity. What is needed instead is a dispassionate acceptance of the situation and a single-minded intention to resolve it. The single-mindedness is the key. So one-pointed should our attention be that negativity simply has no place in the scheme of things.

This state of positivity without an opposite is potent. Free of negating doubts or fears, one's attention focuses unwaveringly on the subject of our intention, knowing fully well that what we intend will happen. In my friend's case, for instance, where I would once be consumed by fear and call out to God in my helplessness, this state of positivity would indicate a steadfast intention for her healing. It may be accompanied by a prayer, but importantly, no longer in helplessness but with the calm self-possession of love. God shifts into the role of a helper and beloved friend rather than the omnipotent power He was earlier.

Surely this is the ground of all creation? The Upanishads reiterate that the Realized One can manifest anything he desires, simply by intending it. They also assert that this power of instant manifestation can only arise in one who has learnt to control his senses, overcome desire, fear and anger.

What is it like, this state of positivity? What kind of life would we lead when immersed in it? I think it is a state of concentrated energy, for we will be freed of all the negative thoughts that steal away our energy and dissipate our focus. It will be a quiet and still state of mind, with no conflict, for the latter is the direct result of negative thoughts. It would be a peaceful and happy state of mind, regardless of circumstances. Most of all, it would be a highly effective state of the mind, for it would zero in on what needs to be done and do it. It would also be a tremendous force for good.

No matter how hopeless or terrible the situation, the positive spirit will prevail, seeing the opportunities inherent in the situation and providing a beacon of hope for others around it. Serenely oblivious to the negative, it does not occur to him/her to falter or doubt, forging ahead regardless, confident in the ultimate good of things.

The corollary is that the positive individual is also a black hole for the negativity around him. In his presence, the negativity dissolves and dissipates, never to appear again.

How is it that negativity simply cannot touch such an individual? One could say that his energy is at a higher frequency than that of negativity, thereby shielding him from its influence. At the level of deconditioning, s/he would have bored through all that came between him and his blissful inner core. In other words, she would have transcended desire and freed herself of fear and anger.

What is the relationship such an individual has between her intention and surrender to God's will? What if God does not want the peaceful resolution of the Afghan situation? I can only hazard a guess. The positivist operates from the stand that man proposes, God disposes. We never stop thinking positive, but we leave the outcome strictly in the hand of God, retaining with ourselves only the ability to see the positive in any outcome.

Gender differences in older adults’ everyday cognitive collaboration

Jennifer A. Margrett

Michael Marsiske

Collaborative cognition research has demonstrated that social partners can positively impact individuals’ thinking and problem-solving performance. Research in adulthood and aging has been less clear about dyadic effects, such as partner gender, on collaborative cognition. The current study examined the objective and subjective experiences of older men and women’s collaboration on three everyday problems. Tasks included comprehension of everyday printed materials, a social dilemma task, and an errand-planning task. A sample of 98 older married couples (N = 196) worked both collaboratively and individually with either their spouse (N = 52 dyads) or a stranger of the other gender (N = 46 dyads). Analyses conducted using the actor-partner methodology (e.g., Gonzalez & Griffin, 1997; Kenny, 1996) suggest that men tended to be more influential during dyadic problem solving, particularly on more ambiguous tasks. Subjective appraisals of collaboration also varied between male and female partners, with familiarity of partner playing a large role in expectations of collaboration. Most notably, women assigned to work with an unfamiliar male partner tended to rate their satisfaction with collaborative teamwork less positively. Both self and partner-rated subjective appraisals, particularly expectations of competitiveness, were predictive of collaborative performance.