Our experiences in life shape us, but we are all born with a certain type of temperament. For me, tragic experiences led me into some years of depression and PTSD, but because I have a generally resilient and optimistic temperament, I was able to eventually bounce back. But what if you are a glass-half-empty kind of person – is it possible to actually re-wire your brain for optimism? Positive psychology researcher Shaun Achor, who taught Harvard’s most popular “Happiness” class, says it is.
Achor lists three simple things you can start doing right now to rewire your brain for optimism, and they only take two minutes. If you do these things for 21 days, research has shown it will actually change the patterns in your brain.
1) Start every day by writing down three things you are grateful for. Each day should be three different things. Starting the day with gratitude, rather than stress or worry, is an instant mood lifter.
2) One of the most significant factors for achieving happiness actually has nothing to do with money, success or love, but about knowing that your work has meaning, and that your life matters. At the end of each day, single out a moment from that day that had meaning for you, and then write about it in detail. Write every single thing you can remember about it. Our brains are excellent at replaying hurts, injuries and insults, but quickly drop the good stuff. By replaying the good, you are programming yourself to look for and remember the good in each moment, and actually changing your brainwaves.
3) Every day, thank someone. Call, send an email, or write a card and let them know you are grateful for who they are, what they’ve done or what they mean in your life.
Achor’s research has proven that if these three things are done every day for 21 days, a significant shift will take place in the brain, and you will be happier.
I started this practice a few months ago, but in the aftermath of a few hard losses this summer, I became so depressed I forgot to do my happiness exercises. Like anything else, achieving happiness is a practice. Just like eating healthy, working out to stay fit, you have to do it every day for results.
A 21-day trial is great, but I know the best action to take would be to make this my lifestyle. So I am back on the horse, and feeling better already.
If you’re interested in trying it yourself, click here to check out this video of Shaun Achor talking with Oprah.