A psychologist looks at the influence that outlook—a tendency toward optimism or pessimism—can play in shaping the events in our lives.
For the past 20 years, Fox (Head of the Department of Psychology and Centre for Brain Science/Univ. of Essex) has studied how “the diverse ways in which people interpret the world around them” are reflective of optimistic or pessimistic mindsets. She reports on experiments that differentiate between these mindsets in a variety of circumstances: the direction of a subject's attention to positive or negative images, brain scans that reflect the activation of different pathways in the brains, longitudinal studies that correlate personality type and life success. The author explains that the human brain has evolved two different circuits—the “rainy brain,” which allows us to have a rapid response to perceived danger, and the “sunny brain,” which directs us to pleasurable activities. Both are necessary to help us cope with our environment, but experiments show that the predominance of one over the other is observable in sunny-brained optimistic people compared with rainy-brained pessimists. The difference reflects the “delicate ebb and flow of circuits deep in our brain that shapes the contours and valleys of our personality”—e.g., while the pleasure circuitry of both optimists and pessimists are triggered by positive experiences, the activation will last longer for those with sunnier dispositions. Not only have optimists been shown to be happier, but they tend to be more successful in flexibly meeting life's challenges. While there may be genetic factors involved in the development of personality type, Fox suggests it is possible to adjust the “reactivity of these brain areas,” although sometimes professional help is advisable.
An insightful addition to the self-help bookshelf.