When a problem erupts in her life, her mind spins into solution finding mode. She’s not prone to worry. Things are probably better than they seem, she often tells herself. And usually, she’s right.

Things always seem to work out for Melanie. So why can’t my life go like that? Rhonda often wonders. The two have known each other since elementary school and have attended the same church ever since, serving together in countless ministries since they were teens.

She always has energy, and never even gets sick! muses Rhonda. And I’m always battling allergies, fatigue, or a cold.

The truth is, Rhonda has always found Melanie’s can-do spirit a little annoying. Actually, really annoying. No one can be that happy, Rhonda pouts on days when the two serve coffee together at church.

Rhonda has a comfortable life—her husband makes a far bigger salary than Melanie’s, and she doesn’t have any real problems. Still, she feels gloomy a lot. And, she admits to her husband from time to time, she probably spends more time than she should fretting about imagined problems that never materialize.

But I can’t help it, she tells herself.

She’s tried the whole “don’t worry until you really have something to worry about” approach. But that just seems so irresponsible.

What if we catch that really nasty flu that’s going around, right before our vacation? she frets. What if the dog works his nose under the loose board on the fence, and gets out and gets hit by a car while I’m at the store? What if there’s a downturn at Rob’s business, and he loses his job? We could lose the house! Our savings! Everything!

What-ifs whirl through her head throughout each day. And she never really feels good anymore, though her doctor can’t find anything wrong with her.

Swirling in Thoughts

Thoughts—optimistic, pessimistic, and everything in between—flit through our minds all day long. And they affect everything about us, from our emotions to our health. Melanie’s cheerful, positive thoughts influence just about every part of her life, from her attitude and mood to her health—and there’s science to prove it.

Rhonda’s negative thoughts affect her more than she realizes—stealing her joy, damaging her relationships, even damaging her health. There’s science to prove that too.

Like these two women, we’re constantly processing thoughts. We couldn’t possibly count the number of thoughts we have each day. There are far too many. Would you guess a thousand? Five thousand? Ten thousand? Depending on how active your mind is, you may produce more than 45,000 thoughts a day. Whew! It might be compared to a flock of birds flying in and out of your mind.

The rate at which we can express those thoughts is far slower. Some research suggests we speak at about 200 words per minute. But we can listen to and process 1,300 words per minute!

This barrage of thoughts can overwhelm us. Sometimes it seems we can’t process them all fast enough. Sometimes we know what we’re thinking, but can’t form the words to express those ideas. Sound familiar?

So what exactly are thoughts? Well, they’re the ways in which we’re conscious of things. They’re made up of our memories, our perceptions, our beliefs. They’re glimpses, even snippets, of ideas. They make up one of the most basic facets of life.

Sometimes they pass fleetingly, barely noticed. Sometimes they come sharply into focus. We often voice them, saying things like, “I thought of you yesterday,” or “I was just thinking of our meeting tomorrow.”

Our thoughts determine the orientation of everything we do. They evoke the feelings that frame our world and motivate our actions. And they have the power to change the way we feel.