Choose Happiness

 

Money can’t buy happiness. But we CAN use science—neuroscience—to cultivate happiness! We can deliberately choose to help our brains feel happier. Here are four practices to try—they’re pretty simple, and they don’t cost a thing.

1. Choose to be grateful. We have at least 50,000 thoughts per day, and 80% of them are negative! According to neuroscientists, this is because pride, guilt, and shame all light up similar chemicals in the brain’s reward center. In some parts of the brain, it feels appealing to heap guilt and shame upon ourselves. Even worry feels good because it registers as doing SOMETHING (“actively” worry), which feels better than doing nothing—for a while.

But too much of this negative activity starts to feel really draining after a while. So what can we do to reverse it? Deliberately ask ourselves what we’re thankful for.

Gratitude activates our brains to produce the feel-good neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin. Even if we can’t think of anything to be grateful for, just asking the question and trying to think of things can stimulate happiness. And it becomes an upward spiral because we start to focus more on the positive aspects of our lives, and our social interactions and relationships improve.

2. Choose to acknowledge negative feelings. Usually, when we feel awful, we try to push those feelings away—who wants to feel yucky?

However, trying to suppress negative emotions is one of the worst things we can do. Because while we might appear better on the outside, on the inside the more primitive part of our brains are even more aroused and we become even more distressed.

Labeling negative emotions, on the other hand, takes their power away. Are we feeling sad? Anxious? Angry? Fearful? When we think about it for a few minutes, we activate the prefrontal cortex (executive thinking skills) and lessen the arousal in the limbic system (“monkey brain”).

Identifying emotions is a key component in mindfulness meditation. If you’re interested in a simple practice that is very powerful in handling difficult emotions, research the R.A.I.N. method of meditating developed by Tara Brach.

Brach’s practice, and others point out that not only is important to label our feelings, it’s also imperative that we allow them. Sometimes it’s completely appropriate to feel sad or angry or whatever we feel! Only then can we process those feelings, release them, and go back to striving for authentic happiness.

3. Choose to make a decision. Scientists say that making a decision reduces worry and anxiety, and each decision we make improves problem-solving skills—we create intentions and set goals. These processes engage the thinking part of our brain in a positive way that helps overcome the worrying and more negative patterns of the “monkey brain.”

If you have trouble making decisions, experts suggest taking the pressure off by allowing yourself to make a choice that’s “good enough.” Sometimes we get stuck trying to make the “perfect” choice. Hemming and hawing for too long can add to our stress level, whereas making a decision can make us feel more in control. The act of deciding actually boosts pleasure in the “reward” center of our brain.

If we choose something—like choosing to exercise, for example—we get more out of it than if we do something because we feel forced into it. And, the more choices we make, the more our happiness is reinforced. Neuroscientist Alex Korb explains, “We don’t just choose the things we like; we also like the things we choose.”

4. Choose touch. There have been many studies on the power of human touch, and the detrimental effects of not having enough touch (babies and elders, for example, can suffer from a phenomenon called “failure to thrive” if they don’t get enough touch—it can actually lead to early death).

People need relationships. Social exclusion (and rejection) can cause the same reaction in the brain as physical pain. This explains why we can actually feel a pain in our chest when we have a “broken heart” or are grieving.

And touch is an important part of relating to others. When we touch, we release oxytocin, which reduces pain, worry, and anxiety. Touch greatly improves our sense of wellbeing—touching has been shown to help people be more persuasive, improve team performance, boost our flirting skills, and even increase math skills!

One of the most effective forms of touch is a hug. Not a quick little squeeze, but a long hold. Research shows that getting five hugs a day for four weeks increases our happiness greatly!

And guess what neuroscientists recommend if you don’t have someone to hug—massage therapy! Massage decreases stress hormones (like cortisol) and releases all the feel-good chemicals like dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin AND pain-killing endorphins.

If we can’t touch others, we need to at least connect through conversation. If your loved ones are far away, talking on the phone is far superior to texting according to scientists.

Choose happiness today! One simple thing we can all do right away that combines some of these elements is to send someone a thank-you email (connection + gratitude). This is enough to start an upward spiral of happiness—for you and for the recipient!

Here’s why, according to Alex Korb: Gratitude improves our sleep, and improved sleep reduces pain. Reduced pain improves our mood, and a better mood reduces anxiety and improves focus and planning. That helps with decision making, which further reduces worry and improves enjoyment. Enjoyment gives us more to be thankful for. It also makes us more likely to exercise and be social, which makes us happier—and so the spiral continues upward!

Source: “A Neuroscience Researcher Reveals Four Rituals That Will Make You Happier,” by Eric Barker, with material drawn from the book “The Upward Spiral,” by Alex Korb.
https://www.businessinsider.com/a-neuroscience-researcher-reveals-4-rituals-that-will-make-you-a-happier-person-2015-9

Category : Blog &Health &Massage Therapy &Personal Growth Posted on September 18, 2018

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