Choosing happiness: Neuroscience

By studying the neuroscience of stress, evolutionary biology and psychology, researchers have found that the human brain is designed for survival and safety rather than happiness. So how do we cultivate the habit of happiness when it is not a natural inclination? Here a four proven and researched techniques..

  1. One important question

What am I grateful for? The practice of gratitude increases serotonin and dopamine neurotransmitters, which increase feelings of wellbeing.

“The benefits of gratitude start with the dopamine system, because feeling grateful activates the brain stem region that produces dopamine. Additionally, gratitude toward others increases activity in social dopamine circuits, which makes social interactions more enjoyable…

It’s not finding gratitude that matters most; it’s remembering to look in the first place.”

Source: Alex Korb

Even in those moments where we find it hard to feel gratitude, just the simple action of searching can shift negative thinking pattern of the brain.

  1. Name the emotion

We often suppress emotion, through shame or guilt of feeling it in the first place. Consciously recognizing an emotion can help to ease its impact on the brain.

“To reduce arousal, you need to use just a few words to describe an emotion, and ideally use symbolic language, which means using indirect metaphors, metrics, and simplifications of your experience. This requires you to activate your prefrontal cortex, which reduces the arousal in the limbic system. Here’s the bottom line: describe an emotion in just a word or two, and it helps reduce the emotion.”

Source: David Rock

  1. Make a decision

The decision process can be difficult. It can induce worry and anxiety, as we strive to make the perfect choice. Making a decision that is good enough, not necessarily perfect, promotes a feeling of control and in turn eases the stress levels of the brain.

“Actively choosing caused changes in attention circuits and in how the participants felt about the action, and it increased rewarding dopamine activity.”

 Source: Alex Korb

  1. Stop texting and hug

Human touch is an undervalued yet powerful tool to promote feelings of happiness. A simple touch of the hand or a hug can reduce feelings of fear and pain. If a hug is not available, a massage can have similar effects.

 “A hug, especially a long one, releases a neurotransmitter and hormone oxytocin, which reduces the reactivity of the amygdala.”

Source: The Upward Spiral