2012-08-29

The Wall Street Journal Takes On Optimism

Today I noticed a great article in The Wall Street Journal, offering some great tips on how "turn that frown upside-down."

"The most resilient people experience a wide range of emotions, both negative and positive," says Dr. Fox, author of "Rainy Brain, Sunny Brain." To enjoy life and feel good, people need roughly four positive emotions to counteract the effect of one negative emotion, she says. People who experience life as drudgery had two or even one positive emotion for every negative one, Dr. Fox has found.

It's possible to change your cognitive bias by training the brain to focus more on the positive than on the negative. In the lab, Dr. Fox showed subjects pairs of images, one negative (the aftermath of a bomb blast, say) and one either positive (a cute child) or neutral (an office). Participants were asked to point out, as quickly as possible, a small target that appeared immediately after each positive or neutral image—subliminally requiring them to pay less attention to the negative images, which had no target. 

Want to try this at home? Write down, in a journal, the positive and negative things that happen to you each day, whether running into an old friend or missing your bus. Try for four positives for each negative. You'll be training your brain to look for the good even as you acknowledge the bad, Dr. Fox says.

And even better:

If you don't feel happy, fake it. You wouldn't constantly burden a friend with your bad mood, so don't burden yourself. Try holding a pencil horizontally in your mouth. "This activates the same muscles that create a smile, and our brain interprets this as happiness," Dr. Fox says.