Are you an optimist or a pessimist? While it may seem like the answer lies within your outlook and attitude toward life, it actually has a lot to do with the chemical processes in your brain. If you find yourself leaning toward a pessimistic perspective more often that you’d like to, here’s something you can feel optimistic about: optimism can be trained!
Just like any other habit that our brains learn through repetition, when you frequently practice positive thoughts, your brain will be primed to keep them coming—thanks to the formation of neural pathways.
Studies show that optimists are happier, more creative, faster at solving problems, and have increased mental alertness compared to pessimists. Optimists also have less cortisol (stress hormone) and more serotonin (mood-boosting neurotransmitter) flowing through their systems.
Sound good? Here are five ways you can start training your brain to be optimistic today:
1. Give thanks.
Thoughts of gratitude increase serotonin and decrease cortisol while also improving motivation and overall happiness. Start by writing down at least three things you’re grateful for each day. This practice may evolve into a more regular noticing of things you’re grateful for, which you can write in a notebook that you carry with you. The more often you focus on gratitude, the more optimistic your brain will become.
2. Pay it forward.
Acts of kindness boost the feel-good neurotransmitter dopamine. Even something as simple as giving someone a smile or a compliment can leave you both feeling a burst of happiness. Challenge yourself to do at least one kind thing for someone else each day, such as sending a thank you email, buying a stranger’s cup of coffee, or donating to the cause of your choice. You’ll reap the benefits of more than just good karma.
3. Laugh out loud.
Laughter really is the best medicine. Belly laughs induce serotonin production, calming the amygdala (the brain’s stress center). Spend time with funny friends, tune in to your favorite funny movies, or you may even want to try laughter yoga. However you get your laughs, just make sure you’re doing it often.
4. Mind your words.
Catch yourself when you start to complain. This is challenging, especially if complaining is a common habit you’ve cultivated. But remember your mom’s sage advice, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all,” and choose your words carefully. You may be surprised how quickly cutting out complaining turns your outlook around.
5. Get sweaty.
Exercise elevates endorphins, serotonin, and other pleasurable brain chemicals while reducing cortisol. For best results, elevate your heart rate for at least twenty minutes each day. If it’s hard to find time to hit the gym, there are many exercise videos you can follow online or even routines you can do while standing next to your desk. The main objective is to break a sweat, and do it daily.
Who's in? Let me know how your outlook (and your life!) changes after putting these practices into place. I’m optimistic that you’ll see a big difference!
This post originally appeared on Livestrong.
Dear friends, the message contained in this article is expanded on in my new book, The Joy Plan. I wanted to remember how I found joy so I could do it again if I forgot, so I documented all the steps I took to transform my experience of life from joyless and anxious to grateful and optimistic. Although The Joy Plan is my story, it’s also yours. Because 30 days is long enough for you to form new habits, harness the neurobiology of joy, and radically upgrade your experience of life. It’s simple, it’s practical, and it’s something anyone can do. Think of The Joy Plan as a memoir with benefits: as the story evolves, the book provides a blueprint for creating your own joy plan. No matter what you’re currently experiencing in life, joy is possible, and it’s easier than you think. The Joy Plan is available from Amazon and everywhere else books are sold. Find out more at TheJoyPlan.com.