We've all heard the cliches: always look at the glass as half full; a smile can change your entire day; and there's always a silver lining.
Whether you're someone who is constantly complimented on their rosy outlook or can't seem to stop frowning at everything around you, you've probably heard endless advice suggesting a positive attitude is a miracle cure. There's some truth to the cliches, though—a happier mood can make a world of difference for both your outlook and your brain.
There are a number of benefits that come from happiness. The better your mood, the better thinker and problem solver you'll become.
Karuna Subramaniam recently examined the effects of a happy, positive outlook on individuals' brains, and found that positivity not only affects cognition, but also creativity. When participants were asked to complete problem-solving tasks, those who were in a good mood came up with more innovative solutions.
But the benefits didn't end there. Subramaniam also discovered that a sunny, optimistic perspective made participants more attentive, better at uncovering and deciphering symbols, and an increased ability to switch between different tasks.
According to Dr. William Klem, who writes for Psychology Today, our mood determines how our brain prepares us for what we might face. When we're in a good mood, our brain releases dopamine, which is triggered by positive feelings or reward. The dopamine then signals our prefrontal cortex, which makes us more attentive. That attentiveness, or increased perception, helps make our brain more flexible and able to think outside the box. Rather than relying on our conscious, we engage that prefrontal cortex, which makes us more attune to stimuli.
Overall, a happy attitude makes us more perceptive and better able to read problems. As a result, we are better able to take in the details and uncover unique routes and methods to solve problems.
Can't seem to get into a positive perspective? Changing your point of view with phrases like the above cliches or even mantras can help you gain the same cognitive benefits as those who are naturally happy.
Dr. Klem notes that research beyond Subramaniam's has explored what happens to individuals when they try to reframe their mindset and look at things in a more positive manner. When we hear words and are asked to associate them with other words, those who come up with more positive words reap the same benefits as those who have a happy outlook.
You can try to achieve the same effects by tricking yourself into happier thinking patterns. Can't get out of a funk? Try associating different words with positive ones, and you might find yourself feeling a little better about the day ahead.
Faking happiness can't lead to the same results, right? After all, we know that faking a smile is both obvious and unhelpful when it comes to others' perceptions of our attitude.
According to Subramaniam, however, faking happiness could have beneficial effects. Real, authentic happiness was tested in the study, but fake happiness was easy to achieve and yielded the same results.
Simply thinking positively and remembering happy experiences was enough to create the same benefits within participants' brains. In fact, even those with disorders such as depression and schizophrenia were able to see the same effects.