Several Exercises to Help Train Your Brain

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Optimism is something we can improve with practice. Here are exercises rooted in scientific studies to help train your brain. PLAY INTERPERSONAL PING-PONG
If you serve up a smile to people, they usually bounce it back. Hit them with a raymond mill snarl and watch them scowl instead. Research shows that facial expressions and the moods that accompany them are contagious, probably because they evolved as a means of nonverbal communication between people. You can use the infectious effects of a grin to jump-start an optimistic outlook in yourself by sending others what you want them to lob back at you. A kind word to the man behind the deli counter can get your day bouncing in the right direction. SHORT-CIRCUIT PESSIMISM

There's another reason for putting on a happy face: It influences your brain in a positive way. In one study, subjects who were asked to hold a pen in their mouth (causing them to inadvertently make the facial muscle movements characteristic of a smile) rated cartoons to be funnier than did other subjects, even though they were unaware that it was the smile that was boosting their reaction. There's an interesting biological reason for this effect: When you feel down, your brain tells your face you're sad and your facial muscles respond by putting on a depressed expression—and convey back to the brain that, yes, you're feeling blue. Consciously changing the facial muscles so they don't correspond to what you're feeling is a way of sending a different message: "Hey, it's not so bad down here after all." The brain will respond by beginning to change your mood accordingly. Research shows that it's not what happens that determines your mood but how you explain what happens that counts. If an optimist encounters a computer program she can't figure out, she's likely to say, "Either the manual is unclear or this program is hard or maybe I'm having an off day." The optimist keeps the failure outside herself ("the manual"), specific ("this program"), and...
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