Exactly How To Train Your Brain To Be More Optimistic, According To Science

Ditch that glass-half-empty attitude—for good!

September 7, 2017
how to be more optimistic
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No one wants to be a Negative Nancy, but if those rose-colored glasses never seem to fit, should you just accept your glass-half-empty attitude?

Definitely not. A positive outlook is linked with loads of health benefits, so it's definitely worth trying to become more optimistic. “High levels of optimism are associated with higher levels of happiness and less depression,” says John Malouff, PhD, an associate professor of behavioral, cognitive, and social sciences at Australia’s University of New England. “Also, some studies indicate that greater optimism is associated with a longer life.”

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And that's not all. “Dispositional optimism”—defined as a tendency to expect the best or brightest outcome—is linked with both emotional and physical health, per an older but oft-cited study from Carnegie-Mellon University. "The effects of positive thinking go beyond simply making people feel better,” the authors of that study say. “Optimism also confers benefits [regarding] what people do and what people are able to achieve in times of adversity.”

Related: 7 Reasons You Need More Than A Vacation—You Need A Mental Health Break
 

Optimism does a body good

For one thing, optimistic people tend to exert more effort—to give something new a try, or keep working toward a solution—while pessimistic people throw in the towel.

Optimistic people also tend to shrug off stress, shows a 2015 study published in Trends in Cognitive Sciences. That helps decrease their levels of stress hormones like cortisol. Elevated cortisol levels can cause inflammation which is linked to all sorts of serious health issues ranging from cancer to depression. With that in mind, it’s easy to see how a positive attitude could have big-time health benefits.

Ditch your monotonous workout and get out in the garden:

Related: 6 Easy Ways To Be A Whole Lot More Optimistic About Anything
 

Picture yourself as an optimist

A growing pile of research has linked something called positive imagery with increased levels of optimism. One 2007 study published in Nature, found that thinking happy thoughts—or more specifically, imagining positive future outcomes—actually activates the parts of the brain linked with positive emotion and stress-reduction. Envisioning a happier future can also help people disengage from—or look past—bad things that are happening in the present, research suggests.

 

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Other research backs this up. Based on their analysis of 29 studies and more than 3,330 individuals, Malouff and his colleagues found that thinking about your “best possible self” and then creating a plan for creating that self is the most effective way to increase your levels of optimism. Other experts agree. According to a 2011 study in the Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry, people who spent just five minutes a day thinking about their best possible selves increased their positivity by an average of 17%. They also enjoyed a significant drop in negative thoughts and outlook.

Related: 9 Traits Optimists Have In Common
 

Getting started with positive imagery

Start by focusing on the “far future,” and think of the best possible outcomes for your social life, your life at home, and your career. Sit down and, for 20 minutes, write in detail about these happy outcomes—what your life would look like, what goals you would have met, how you’d feel about yourself, and so on.

After this initial exercise, spend just five minutes each day imagining that you’ve achieved everything you wrote down. Don’t read what you wrote. Just try to imagine what your life would look like if all those things came true. Do this, and your levels of optimism are bound to soar.

The article Exactly How To Train Your Brain To Be More Optimistic, According To Science originally appeared on Prevention.