4 rituals that will make you happier
Actually, don't trust me either. Trust neuroscientists. They study that gray blob in your head all day and have learned a lot about what truly will make you happy. UCLA neuroscience researcher Alex Korb has some insights that can create an upward spiral of happiness in your life.
Here's what you and I can learn from the people who really have answers:
The most important question to ask when you feel down.
Sometimes it doesn't feel like your brain wants you to be happy. You may feel guilty or shameful. Why?
Believe it or not, guilt and shame activate the brain's reward center. Despite their differences, pride, shame, and guilt all activate similar neural circuits, including the dorsomedial prefrontal cortex, amygdala, insula, and the nucleus accumbens.
And you worry a lot, too. Why?
In the short term, worrying makes your brain feel a little better — at least you're doing something about your problems… but it’s a terrible long-term solutions. So what do neuroscientists say you should do?
Ask yourself this question: What am I grateful for?
Yeah, gratitude is awesome … but does it really affect your brain at the biological level? Yup. You know what the antidepressant Wellbutrin does? Boosts the neurotransmitter dopamine. So does gratitude. Know what Prozac does? Boosts the neurotransmitter serotonin. So does gratitude.
2. Label negative feelings
You feel awful. OK, give that awfulness a name. Sad? Anxious? Angry?
It's that simple. "Putting Feelings into Words" participants viewed pictures of people with emotional facial expressions. Predictably, each participant's amygdala activated to the emotions in the picture. But when they were asked to name the emotion, the ventrolateral prefrontal cortex activated and reduced the emotional amygdala reactivity. In other words, consciously recognizing the emotions reduced their impact.
Suppressing emotions doesn't work!! They just come back to haunt you – usually bigger before.
Gross found that people who tried to suppress a negative emotional experience failed to do so. While they thought they looked fine outwardly, inwardly their limbic system was just as aroused as without suppression, and in some cases, even more aroused. Kevin Ochsner, at Columbia, repeated these findings using an fMRI. Trying not to feel something doesn't work, and in some cases even backfires. But labeling, on the other hand, makes a big difference.
3. Make that decision
Ever make a decision and then your brain finally feels at rest? That's no random occurrence.
Brain science shows that making decisions reduces worry and anxiety — as well as helping you solve problems. But deciding can be hard. I agree. So what kind of decisions should you make? Neuroscience has an answer.
Make a "good enough" decision. Don't sweat making the absolute 100% best decision. We all know being a perfectionist can be stressful. And brain studies back this up. Trying to be perfect overwhelms your brain with emotions and makes you feel out of control.
4. Touch people
No, not indiscriminately; that can get you in a lot of trouble.
But we need to feel love and acceptance from others. When we don't it's painful. And I don't mean "awkward" or "disappointing." I mean actually painful.
Neuroscientists did a study where people played a ball-tossing video game. The other players tossed the ball to you and you tossed it back to them. Actually, there were no other players; that was all done by the computer program.
But the subjects were told the characters were controlled by real people. So what happened when the "other players" stopped playing nice and didn't share the ball?
Subjects' brains responded the same way as if they experienced physical pain. Rejection doesn't just hurt like a broken heart; your brain feels it like a broken leg. Relationships are important to your brain's feeling of happiness. Want to take that to the next level? Touch people. So hug someone today. And do not accept little, quick hugs. No, no, no. Tell them your neuroscientist recommended long hugs.
These tips really can start an upward spiral of happiness in your life. UCLA neuroscience researcher Alex Korb explains:
Everything is interconnected. Gratitude improves sleep. Sleep reduces pain. Reduced pain improves your mood. Improved mood reduces anxiety, which improves focus and planning. Focus and planning help with decision making. Decision making further reduces anxiety and improves enjoyment. Enjoyment gives you more to be grateful for, which keeps that loop of the upward spiral going. Enjoyment also makes it more likely you'll exercise and be social, which, in turn, will make you happier.
So thank you for reading this.