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5 Ways to Train Your Brain to Be Optimistic

author image Kaia Roman
Kaia Roman teaches mindfulness to elementary school students in Santa Cruz, California, and writes for mindbodygreen and other wellness sites. She is the author of the personal growth memoir, The Joy Plan. For everyday mindfulness tips, check out Roman's blog at
5 Ways to Train Your Brain to Be Optimistic
It's true: Optimism can be trained! Photo Credit: Twenty20/criene

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 being negative more often than you’d like to, here’s something you can feel good about: Optimism can be trained!

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Just like any other habit that your brain learns 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 as 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 awareness of things you’re grateful for, about 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.

Read more: 9 Natural Treatments for Depression

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 more benefits than just good karma.

Yuk it up! Your amygdala will thank you.
Yuk it up! Your amygdala will thank you. Photo Credit: Jacob Ammentorp Lund/iStock/Getty Images

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, put on one of your favorite comedies or even try laughter yoga. Regardless of how you get your laughs, just make sure you’re getting them 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.” So choose your words carefully. You may be surprised how quickly cutting out complaining turns your outlook around.

Read more: 11 Words to Stop Saying Right Now

Hit the gym for some feel-good endorphins.
Hit the gym for some feel-good endorphins. Photo Credit: nd3000/iStock/GettyImages

5. Get Sweaty

Exercise elevates endorphins, serotonin and other pleasurable brain chemicals while simultaneously reducing cortisol. For best results, increase your heart rate for at least 20 minutes each day.

If it’s hard to find time to hit the gym, there are many exercise videos you can follow online. There are 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.

What Do YOU Think?

Have you cultivated some happiness yourself? If so, how’d you do it? Have you tried any of the methods above? (And no complaining that getting happy is too hard!)

Read more: Money Won't Make You Happy, But These 12 Traits Will

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