You Can Train Your Brain To Be Optimistic. Here's How
"Find joy for 30 days," my best friend Niko said, after my anxiety and depression recently pushed me to rock bottom. Although joy felt as distant as a dream, her premise was enticing: Joy for 30 days would be long enough to change my life.
But I felt afraid. Hopeless. Powerless. And when I looked around, all I could see were reasons to keep feeling that way. I'd made too many mistakes. Lost too much time. The world was scary and cruel, I told myself.
But then another voice emerged, quiet and calm: "It's never too late," she whispered.
Transformation doesn't come from the light. It comes from moving through the darkness.
I courted joy like a lover, never realizing it was the soulmate who'd been with me all along. I had forgotten what joy felt like, but it wasn't too late. Sometimes it's easier to forget than to remember—but I did remember. One small thought, word, and action at a time, I worked my way back to joy.
My life didn't look too different on the outside after 30 days, but Niko was right. Everything had changed. I realized that there were forces all around me telling me to forget that I have the power to make a difference and to follow the path they laid out for me. But I didn't have to listen to them. I could forge another path.
Through small daily actions of gratitude, mindfulness, and kindness, I trained my brain to gravitate toward optimism. I built up the emotional muscle memory of joy and shifted my worldview, as well as my world.
Power to the peaceful
When we realize that joy is a choice, independent of our external circumstances, the revolution that starts within our own hearts quickly expands to our families and communities. When "impossible" morphs into "I'm possible," there is no limit to what joy and optimism can achieve.
We don't see the world as it is; we see it as we are. For every blow of bad news or statistic you hear, there are hundreds more that are positive, hopeful, and inspiring.
Light and dark will always coexist because we can't have one without the other. But transformation doesn't come from the light. It comes from moving through the darkness. As Brad Montague, the director behind Kid President, described recently, let's "joyfully rebel against the way things are to create the world as it could and should be."
A world filled with joy
If you need an injection of positivity to fuel your optimist fire, check out this good news, and then go make some of your own:
Reason No. 1: Donations to activist organizations have spiked higher than ever.
Reason No. 2: Solar power is now cheaper than coal, gas, and oil.
Reason No. 3: Many companies are using their technology to help people on a massive scale, through initiatives like The Polaris Project.
Reason No. 4: New discoveries in epigenetics show that it's much easier to change our DNA, even through our thoughts, than scientists previously realized.
Reason No. 5: We're actually living in the most peaceful era since the existence of our species.
Reason No. 6: The kids are all right. Young people are coming up with brilliant solutions to some of the world's biggest problems.
Reason No. 7: Not all billionaires are bad. Some are actually doing incredible things to change the world.
Reason No. 8: Vertical forests will soon suck pollution out of smog-filled cities in China and beyond.
Reason No. 9: Thanks to the internet, social media, and rapid advancements in technology, we can reach and help people around the world more quickly and effectively than ever before.
These reasons are not a justification to ignore the bad and scary things happening in the world or to become complacent. But I encourage all of us to find joy, stay optimistic, and do our best to embody the change we want to see in the world. When you feel the weight of oppression on your shoulders, joy is an act of rebellion and activism.