Why Optimism Is Good for Your Brain

Focusing on positive experiences is a reflex for some, but it’s a skill that all of us would be wise to adopt. Because not only can it be just plain enjoyable to mentally relive good experiences, it can actually rewire the brain.

New findings keep showing us that everything we do affects our brain. But that is in both positive and negative ways.

So wherever we focus our attention, we’re making lasting change, for better or worse.

... wherever we focus our attention, we're making lasting change, for better or worse. @RuthBuczynski Click To Tweet

But Rick Hanson, PhD has a way that we can positively influence changes in the brain – and it can even extend our capacity for basic survival.

Check out this short (2:24) video for more.

The more we show people that changing the brain can be both simple and enjoyable, the better equipped they’ll be to transform their lives.

To find out more about how the brain can change through positive experience (and what to do for someone when good things in life just seem out of their reach), check this out.

How have you encouraged patients to focus more on positivity? Please share your experience in the comments.


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  1. Kalilou says:

    do to an auto accident 2004 i woekrd as an school bus driver and could not return to work due to major injury i had to withdraw my pention and now i have to pay penalities i also resign now i am back into the school system what can i invest in to catch up? i am 55yrs old.

  2. Wendy, Librarian, Lexington, KY says:

    I really admire Rick’s mention of the limitations of the severely depressed person whose setpoint just isn’t ready to think/feel positively…yet!

  3. Julie Unger, LPC, NCC, Littleton, CO says:

    Thinking about how Rick said to focus on the positive instead of the negative, my family is doing that right now. We had a death in our family two days ago, here in Colorado, up in the mountains. While we are all very sad about the loss of my nephew, we are also all looking forward to seeing each other, even though it’s for a sad reason. I will be seeing my sister, two other nephews and two nieces, as well as my daughter and all of us are glad we’ll be together, even though we are sad about the death. So we’re all focusing on the positive of being together as much or more than we’re focusing on the death of my nephew.

  4. Joseph Maizlish, MFT, Los Angeles CA USA says:

    A challenge is that experiences (unintegrated trauma) may pose obstacles to the refocusing. So getting those out of the way is the necessary starting point. Since focusing on the positive is what this is all about, it’s up to the therapist to keep that focus in our own thinking as we help our clients learn their way through or around obstacles using the various methods our practice has developed.

    • Irene says:

      Even more, in some trauma, the positive (joy, good things) is source of pain and triggers. Some cases are more complex than just focusing in the positive.

    • Irene says:

      Exactly, trauma wires you to negative, so positive is unreachable just by “willing”, it´s just not there

      • Irene says:

        And if it´s in early childhood, you cannot possibly know how is it or how to take the positive

  5. Kolya Lynne Smith, Medical Sociology Major, Boston, MA says:

    I *love* Rick Hanson! I’ve been an admirer of his work for years. Whenever I hug someone, it’s always for at least 20 seconds, so I can take in the good. Same thing when I’m feeling gratitude for something. I want to burn them into my memory, because there are so many negative things that trump them. If I’m having a bad day, I’ll listen to the voice of someone I love, look at pictures, re-read a note or e-mail, etc. It’s one of the ways I can help myself. :) I have so much gratitude for all the help Rick has given me through his work. Excited for Wednesday!

  6. Carolyn Eberle, LPC Boulder, CO says:

    I just love this brain science research…it confirms what I have noticed happening with clients. For years I have been saying, “what you focus on grows.” Energetically how it works is…if you focus on the feelings, “I am bad” then that energy anchors in and gets stronger. For decades I have been teaching that if you notice throughout your day “What is going well” then you get more of what is going well. Thanks Rick! I love your work and I just love the science behind your work as it substantiates so much of what i have been seeing in clients. I teach Mind Energy Body Transformation that integrates all three systems into one orientation of change and the brain science work has grounded my teachings so beautifully!

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