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The Up Beat
By Amy Wong

Positive Thinking Tips: Grab a Pencil

I’ve got school supplies on the brain. It wasn’t just seeing kids with brand-new backpacks make their way to PS 116 here in my neighborhood yesterday for the first day of school that triggered this. It’s also the recent Wall Street Journal article our online managing editor, Anne Simpkinson, forwarded me about training yourself to focus on the positive.

The article is full of positive thinking tips. My two favorites come from psychologist and neuroscientist Elaine Fox, visiting research professor at Oxford University and author of the new book Rainy Brain, Sunny Brain. They also happen to be the simplest. All you need are the most basic school supplies—pencil and paper.

Train your brain to look on the bright side
Write down four positive things and one negative thing about each day. Why the 4 to 1 ratio? Professor Fox’s research has shown that to have an optimistic outlook, people need four positive emotions to counteract each negative one.

Put on a happy face
Hold a pencil horizontally in your mouth, like a dog would hold a stick. Since this uses the same muscles you use when you smile, it activates the pleasure center in your brain. That’s the neuroscientist’s explanation. Doing this makes me feel so goofy and dog-like that I end up smiling for real. Try it and you’ll see what I mean!

Amy Wong is the executive editor of Guideposts and was a founding editor of Positive Thinking. She lives in New York City with her adopted dog, Winky, a natural-born positive thinker who believes that everyone has a treat for her and every day is the best day of her life. Amy hopes to be that optimistic someday (she’s working on it!).