I love it when my clients bring great information to me to read. Recently I had a session with a client I have been seeing in therapy for several years now. He has made great progress, and will sometimes bring me an article he has found helpful. It’s all about using brain science to make you happy. I’ve put together an abridged version below, but you should read the entire Time article here for the full effect. Hope you enjoy it – I think it is packed with good information and thoughts.
Four Rituals That Will Make You Happy, According to Neuroscience
Ask yourself, “What am I grateful for?”
Feeling grateful actually activates parts of your brain that produce feel-good hormones, like dopamine. Just thinking about positive things in your life and taking the time to reflect on feeling grateful for them increases production of these hormones. Not only does this activity make your brain happier, but it can create a positive feedback loop in your relationships. So remember to extend that gratitude to your loved ones too. Sometimes you may get stuck in a rut and feel like you have nothing to be grateful for, but fear not. Simply searching for gratefulness does the job. And who knows, you might find you enjoy the simple quiet reflection.
Label Negative Feelings
Suppressing emotions doesn’t work, and often backfires. But one study has found that simply putting a name to your negative emotion can reduce the impact. The study used brain scans to see the difference in brain activity when participants viewed pictures of people showing emotions, and found that when participants were asked to name the emotion, another section of the brain activated, reducing the emotional impact. To do this yourself, try to use symbolic language, and use just a word or two to describe how you’re feeling. This isn’t even an entirely new concept. Meditation and mindfulness employ this technique, and even FBI hostage negotiators are known to use the technique to talk down their targets.
Make That Decision
Making a decision can be hard, but have you ever noticed the happy feeling of relief once you do? Brain science shows that making decisions reduces worry and anxiety, and even helps you solve problems. Often people can get hung up on making the perfect decision, but this can overwhelm your brain with emotion and, ironically, make you feel out of control. Instead, remind yourself that “good enough is almost always good enough,” make that decision, and activate areas of your brain that help you feel in control.
But here’s where it gets interesting; a feeling of control reduces stress, but making a decision actually boosts pleasure. Making an active choice actually changes the way your brain processes the experience. Choosing a goal and actually achieving it makes you feel much better than if you had achieved the same goal without first deciding to go for it. This also explains why dragging yourself to the gym can be so difficult. When you go because you think you have to, it’s not a choice, your brain gets stressed, and you miss out on the pleasure boost.
Relationships are very important to your brain’s feeling of happiness. And touching someone you love actually reduces pain. But it doesn’t have to be an intimate touch. Even a handshake or a pat on the back can do the trick. Touching releases more of those feel-good hormones, so make more of an effort to touch people you’re close with. Hugs aren’t left out of the studies either. “Research shows getting five hugs a day for four weeks increases happiness big time.” If you’re not ready to go on a hugging spree, a massage can work wonders as well. Another study focused on the difference between supporting each other in person or by talking on the phone versus just texting. The texting group’s brains reacted as if they had no support at all. So give your friend a hug, call your mom, and get yourself a massage. Your brain will thank you for it.