“The Science of Optimism” is an ongoing blog series focused on the bright side of dating in 2013. The series will feature posts by Dr. Helen Fisher, biological anthropologist and scientific advisor for Chemistry.com.
By Dr. Helen Fisher
Optimists tend to be accomplished. They excel in academia, as well as in athletics, the military, and political and vocational pursuits. Optimists are less anxious and depressed. They shine at solving problems. They have stronger friendships. And they enjoy better physical health. These hopeful men and women also tend to be conscientious and have a greater ability to delay their indulgences. They focus on the future—a happy future, their happy future.
How to boost this hope? As I mentioned in my last blog, optimism has been linked with the dopamine system in the brain. So it is reasonable to suggest that if you can increase your dopamine activity (and design reasonable goals), you are likely to become more optimistic. There are several ways to do this. Novelty triggers dopamine production. So try a new restaurant, ride your bike to work, take a class in chess or calligraphy, or arrange a trip down the Colorado River or to the Louvre. If you have a sweetheart, have some fun in bed. And get some exercise. All stimulate the dopamine system in the brain.
You might also create a little mantra to boost your optimism. I have one that works remarkably well for me. When I become deluged with work and feel slightly short of breath from panic, I repeat four words: “I can do this.” I say it over and over in different tones and tempos. It gives me hope. Perhaps it also entertains my medial orbito-frontal cortex, a brain region directly behind the forehead that has been linked with the ability to see life through rose-colored glasses—what psychologists call “positive illusions” or the “pink lens effect.”
This brain region is associated with the tendency to be realistic, as well as negative about one’s self and others; but a deactivation is linked with the ability to suspend negative judgment (and thus over-evaluate a partner). Those still in love had been wearing rose-colored glasses!
“Faith, Hope, and Charity.” No wonder optimism is one of the primary theological virtues in the Judeo-Christian tradition. Optimism not only preserves your health; optimism can preserve your relationship. So take a tip from poet Emily Dickinson, who wrote “Hope is the thing with feathers / That Perches in the soul,/…Yet, never, in extremity, / It asked a crumb of me.”