If you are an optimist (sunny brain), or even if you are not, this explanation might help: optimism is connected the pleasure center in the brain.

Would this kind of study then suggest that pessimism is shaped by some lack in the pleasure center? Or that pessimists can be “rewired” through the pleasure center?

Because the experience of pleasure is fleeting, the pursuit of pleasure can all too easily spiral out of control, sometimes tipping into dangerous risk taking and addictions. But if kept under control, experiencing pleasure is the spark that strengthens the circuits and networks that make up the sunny brain. And one of the great benefits of the sunny brain is the optimistic mindset it nurtures, which is not only about feeling joy and happiness, or even just about feeling good or thinking positively about the future, but also about sticking with tasks that are meaningful and beneficial. Our sunny-brain circuits help us to stay focused on the things that bring us rewards, and this keeps us engaged on important tasks.

This is a central insight, backed up by anatomical evidence, of how our sunny brain works. Optimism is about more than feeling good; it’s about being engaged with a meaningful life, developing resilience, and feeling in control. This dovetails nicely with psychological research showing that the benefits of optimism come from the ability to accept the good along with the bad, and being prepared to work creatively and persistently to get what you want out of life. Optimistic realists, whom I consider to be the true optimists, don’t believe that good things will come if they simply think happy thoughts. Instead, they believe at a very deep level that they have some control over their own destinies.

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  • Margaret

    “Optimism is about more than feeling good; it’s about being engaged with a meaningful life, developing resilience, and feeling in control.” If this is true, then pessimists would only need to be rewired by being engaged and feeling in control of their life instead of assuming they’re being run by their life. They may still have a “glass half-empty” outlook, but they are still engaged and see themselves as in control

  • Pat Pope

    I consider myself a realist, but I don’t believe so much in control over my own destiny as I believe in the power of God.

  • Kyle

    I think this is an example of overeagerness to use the vernacular and modeling of neuroscience long before that discipline has provided new conceptual territory. Of course pessimists don’t experience enough pleasure, and of course training pessimists to experience more would diminish the pessimistic disposition, and of course sustainable “flavors” of pleasure are tied to goal-directed behavioral and the experience of selecting and directing that behavior. But is this any different from what we’ve learned through non-neuroscientific inventories of psyche such as self-reportage? Almost all of those themes, along with their postulated interrelationships, can be found richly woven through classic literature and other authoritative, cultural repositories of psychological truth, sometimes referred to as common sense. We love to use science terms like “wired” as explanatory forces for things that are altered and then eventually measured exclusively through cognitive-behavioral modalities – i.e., modalities that are only indirectly material – which begs the question why we’re using those terms at all. The old guard would suggest “retraining” or “re-habituating”, neither veering dangerously near the philosophy that would hunt down one-to-one mappings for neural phenomenon and emotions or specific thoughts and impulses and in the process lose sight of feedback loops within broader hierarchical systems.

  • Kyle

    Also, the author here alludes to an array of different types of pleasure – the short-term, addictive, harmful, as well as those that are tied to meaningful and beneficial pursuits and outcomes – but provides NO roadmap for how to neurally distinguish one from the other, fails to explicate how to go about programming someone to prefer one as opposed to the other, and most importantly, sidesteps sound argument for why all of these classifications belong under the same penumbra of “pleasure”. Wouldn’t it be better to use a wholly different word for those emotions tied to enriching activities, and if so, wouldn’t we then have to recognize that our pleasure center is actually more than one center with radically different functionality? (This is my earlier point in my last post about seeing the landscape of physicality rather than our first-person commonsense as authoritative.) John Stuart Mill played an identically procrustean game moons ago when overpopulating the realm of “happiness” with painfully divergent experiences of emotion and purpose.

  • Sean P. Nelson

    So Kyle, you found very pessimistic about the article. 😉

  • Sean P. Nelson

    Ooops… *sound* 😀