Positive thoughts can help your brain, boost your health and improve your life.
It’s true: You are what you think. Happy thoughts support brain health, which in turn impacts every aspect of your life, including overall emotional and physical health. Happiness delivers endorphins (feel-good chemicals) that stimulate brain-derived neurotrophic factor, or BDNF, a very useful protein that encourages neurons to grow and to connect in new ways. This creates a stronger immune system, while lowering inflammation and stress.
Synchrony when your brain synapses are working together like instruments in a symphony led by a maestro is achievable. And optimism is one tool that can help you get there: You can train yourself to think more positively. “As far as we know, the human capacity for learning is infinite,” says Teresa Aubele-Futch, Ph.D., a neuroscientist and assistant professor of psychology at Saint Mary’s College in Notre Dame, Ind. “The brain is a learning machine!”
Even after co-writing a book on optimism Train Your Brain to Get Happy: The Simple Program That Primes Your Gray Cells for Joy, Optimism, and Serenity, Dr. Aubele-Futch still marvels at the mind’s capacity for benevolent force. “If you were to look at a neuron under a microscope, and then watch someone learn, you would see the neuron change shape,” she says. “It would extend new arms to reach out and form a bridge with another neuron.”
Known as brain plasticity, this function enhanced by positive thoughts stimulates growth, cognition, creativity, attentiveness, and ability. “When you’re stressed out, small parts of your brain are working very hard,” Dr. Aubele-Futch says. “But if you’re calm, happy, and relaxed, your brain makes connections.” This is easier said than done, right? Well, consider her simple suggestions for inspiring more happiness in your daily life:
Have a mantra. Muhammad Ali had mantras: I’m the greatest, and Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee. And we all know how successful he was. “Athletes often repeat a positive phrase while training,” says Dr. Aubele-Futch. “It can make you feel powerful, strong, and happy.”
Make time for things you love. Return to activities you enjoy, such as horseback riding, dancing, or singing. Or follow your curiosity try something new. It doesn’t have to be productive (though that’s great, too). It could be as simple as finishing a new puzzle or learning to play chess. Find activities that make you feel genuinely happy to build endorphins.
Imagine your happiness. Think about doing whatever makes you happy. “Your brain has a difficult time separating imagination from reality,” says Dr. Aubele-Futch. “Go in a quiet room and visualize the activity it can reduce your stress and over time increase your happiness.”