Fast fact: A neuroscientist is someone who studies the nervous system.

Have you ever wondered why some people seem to be happy all the time? Why is the glass always half-full in their eyes? What is making them so happy? This article looks at some of the factors that lead to positive or negative attitudes, as well as ways a person can become more positive.

Neuroscientists and behavioural scientists have found that people with a positive outlook on life tend to have better moods, stronger immune systems, and greater success at school and work. On the other hand, people with negative attitudes tend to do poorly at school and work, have difficulty making and keeping friends, and live shorter, less healthy lives.

Fast fact: The “neuro“ in “neuroscientist comes from the Greek word “neuron,” meaning “sinew” or “tendon.” In English, “neuron” refers to a cell that transmits nerve impulses.

But what causes this difference? It all comes down to how someone sees and handles problems. When something bad happens to an optimist, like a poor grade on a test, they will say things like “I’ll do better next time.” However, a pessimist will tend to blame themselves for not being smart enough or failing to learn. They will even say things like “there’s no point in even trying.” A likely result of this difference in attitudes is that the optimist will try harder the next time while the pessimist will not.

These results tend to perpetuate themselves: optimistic people stay positive despite occasional set-backs, while pessimistic people stop believing in themselves, put in less effort, and even expect failure. More importantly, pessimists become used to thinking negatively and the parts of their brain that are responsible for negative thoughts become stronger. In other words, they “train” their brain to always think negatively. Over time, more and more situations will trigger pessimistic thoughts.

Fast fact: The human brain has about 86 billion neurons.

But pessimism does not necessarily have to be a permanent condition. There are ways to break the cycle! The key lies in training the brain to think positively. Though difficult at first, the parts of the brain that are responsible for positivity will develop over time and it will become easier. For example, if a person didn’t do as well as they hoped on a test, instead of feeling bad about it all day, they can try and immediately re-focus their attention on something positive. This could be anything from next week’s class trip to remembering their first soccer goal. Once they feel better, they can assess what went wrong on the test and constructively plan how to do better next time. By continuing this “brain-training,” they will gradually gain more confidence in themselves and their abilities. Fast fact: An “optimist” is someone who is generally positive. A “pessimist” is someone who is generally negative.

Learn More!

Happy Brain, Happy Life (Teresa Aubele and Susan Reynolds, Psychology Today) How Positive Thinking Re-Wires Your Brain (Barrie Davenport, Change Your Thoughts, Change Your Life) How The Brain Rewires Itself (Time Magazine),9171,1580438,00.html

Jenny Kliever

Jenny is an enthusiastic leader with a B.Sc. in Physics, who currently works as a headhunter for the pharmaceutical industry. Her job is to recruit clinical professionals for large pharmaceutical and medical device companies. Writing and editing is a passionate hobby of hers. She is currently working towards a certification in creative writing and has been writing and editing for CurioCity since 2011. She is also on the board of directors for Let's Talk Science UofT chapter.

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