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Neuroscientists Find 4 Ways to Boost Happiness (Even When You Feel Down)

Neuroscientists Find 4 Ways to Boost Happiness (Even When You Feel Down)

When you feel down, what can you do? After all, those feelings of guilt, fear, worry, and shame are all invading your brain and there does not seem to be an easy solution. Guess what? Your reward center in the brain is actually getting a short term boost from those negative thoughts. Much in the same way alcohol gives you a quick fix, but to become an alcoholic is a tragedy. These are obviously not long term solutions.

Here are 4 things you must do to boost happiness, according to the neuroscientists.

1. Ask yourself what you can be grateful for

Why is this so important? Alex Korb (UCLA neuroscientist) in his book, The Upward Spiral explains what parts of the brain get activated when you start to feel grateful and appreciate what you have in life. He mentions the National Institutes of Health (HIH) research which shows that the hypothalamus region in the brain gets a boost when you start being grateful and that impacts our sleep, stress levels and general well-being. In addition, the dopamine neurotransmitter, also known as our “reward button”, gets an added dose. It feels good and we want more of this, making it a risk free addiction!

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Next time you are down, just thank your lucky stars for what you have and share it in an email with a loved one or some close friends so that they too are kept in the happiness and gratitude loop.

2. Put a label on those emotions

You feel angry, sad, frustrated or disappointed. You are in a really bad mood because of one or more of those emotions. Let’s not forget that the brain has fast track connections with the rest of the body. If there is fear or anger, the neuroscientists tell us that there is a risk of an “amygdala hijack” when an emotional memory takes over and we lose control. This is the classic “fight or flight” response for emergency situations. There is no time for logic or reason.

Experts recommend that when we can actually label the emotions, the amygdala is less likely to overreact and we are more in control. We can use a few words to describe the emotion or acknowledge how we feel. Telling yourself that you are angry — and defining why — helps enormously. It raises self awareness of our emotions. The great bonus is that we can then figure out how to deal with them.

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It is no accident that labelling emotions is a cornerstone of mindfulness and is a great way to boost happiness. It is also fascinating to learn how hostage negotiators use this technique. They always actively listen to the barricaded criminals and label their emotions before even attempting any influencing. This works just as well for an argument with your partner.

“Your intellect may be confused, but your emotions will never lie to you.”- Roger Ebert

3. Make that decision

What happens in your brain when you make a decision and stop hesitating? The prefrontal cortex in the parietal lobe becomes more activated and also reduces anxiety and worry. It is a very complex and poorly understood process as outlined in this article.

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One thing is clear though. When we make decisions, we reduce striatum activity, which has a tendency to drag us down to anxiety and fretting. You are also more in control and can start planning steps, methods and goals. There is great pleasure and satisfaction when you do make that decision. Nothing is more satisfying than achieving your goals as a result of a wise decision.

“Once you make a decision, the universe conspires to make it happen.”- Ralph Waldo Emerson

4. Touch people

The power of touch. There are hundreds of research studies which show that real, physical human contact is an astonishingly effective way to boost happiness. Everybody is doing it. You can see Presidents who pat each other’s backs at world conferences, or people who hug complete strangers in the street. They know instinctively that they can be more influential, empathic, friendly and persuasive.

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Touch is the first sense we learn from birth. Touch can communicate very powerful positive emotions such as love, joy, gratitude, and empathy. A mother’s touch can reduce her baby’s pain. Touch is vital to our well-being. Research shows that servers can get bigger tips if they have touched the customers — appropriately and discreetly, of course!

What happens when we touch another person? The hormone called oxytocin, which is also a neurotransmitter, is released. That sets in motion a host of positive feelings from bonding, reducing stress, a greater sense of trust and security, increased sense of calm and also a strengthened immune system.

“Non-verbal communication can be a very powerful way to say to your partner, ‘I get you.’ Cuddling is a way of saying, ‘I know how you feel.’ It allows us to feel known by your partner in ways that words can’t convey.” – David Klow, marriage and family therapist

If you are lucky enough to get five hugs a day for four weeks, your happiness will increase by leaps and bounds. Failing that, a massage just might do the trick — albeit less effectively.

Featured photo credit: Lifestyle. Young happy hipster woman eating sweetened cotton candy, amazing view of the river and the city from the bridge. via shutterstock.com

More by this author

Robert Locke

Author of Ziger the Tiger Stories, a health enthusiast specializing in relationships, life improvement and mental health.

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Last Updated on September 12, 2019

12 Things You Should Remember When Feeling Lost in Life

12 Things You Should Remember When Feeling Lost in Life

Even the most charismatic people you know, whether in person or celebrities of some sort, experience days where they feel lost in life and isolated from everyone else.

While it’s good to know we aren’t alone in this feeling, the question still remains:

What should we do when we feel lost and lonely?

Here are 12 things to remember:

1. Recognize That It’s Okay!

The truth is, there are times you need to be alone. If you’ve always been accustomed to being in contact with people, this may prove difficult.

However, learning how to be alone and comfortable in your own skin will give you confidence and a sense of self reliance.

We cheat ourselves out of the opportunity to become self reliant when we look for constant companionship.

Learn how to embrace your me time: What Your Fear of Being Alone Is Really About and How to Get over It

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2. Use Your Lost and Loneliness as a Self-Directing Guide

You’ve most likely heard the expression: “You have to know where you’ve been to know where you’re going.”

Loneliness also serves as a life signal to indicate you’re in search of something. It’s when we’re in the midst of solitude that answers come from true soul searching.

Remember, there is more to life than what you’re feeling.

3. Realize Loneliness Helps You Face the Truth

Being in the constant company of others, although comforting sometimes, can often serve as a distraction when we need to face the reality of a situation.

Solitude cuts straight to the chase and forces you to deal with the problem at hand. See it as a blessing that can serve as a catalyst to set things right!

4. Be Aware That You Have More Control Than You Think

Typically, when we see ourselves as being lost or lonely, it gives us an excuse to view everything we come in contact with in a negative light. It lends itself to putting ourselves in the victim mode, when the truth of the matter is that you choose your attitude in every situation.

No one can force a feeling upon you! It is YOU who has the ultimate say as to how you choose to react.

5. Embrace the Freedom That the Feeling of Being Alone Can Offer

Instead of wallowing in self pity, which many are prone to do because of loneliness, try looking at your circumstance as a new-found freedom.

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Most people are in constant need of approval of their viewpoints. Try enjoying the fact that  you don’t need everyone you care about to support your decisions.

6. Acknowledge the Person You Are Now

Perhaps you feel a sense of loneliness and confusion because your life circumstances have taken you away from the persona that others know to be you.

Perhaps the new you differs radically from the old. Realize that life is about change and how we react to that change. It’s okay that you’re not who you used to be.

Take a look at this article and learn to accept your imperfect self: Accept Yourself (Flaws and All): 7 Benefits of Being Vulnerable

7. Keep Striving to Do Your Best

Often those who are feeling isolated and unto themselves will develop a defeatist attitude. They’ll do substandard work because their self esteem is low and they don’t care.

Never let this feeling take away your sense of worth! Do your best always and when you come through this dark time, others will admire how you stayed determined in spite of the obstacles you had to overcome.

And to live your best life, you must do this ONE thing: step out of your comfort zone.

8. Don’t Forget That Time Is Precious

When we’re lost in a sea of loneliness and depression, it’s all too easy to reflect on regrets of past life events. This does nothing but feed negativity and perpetuate the situation.

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Instead of falling prey to this common pitfall, put one foot in front of the other and acknowledge every positive step you take. By doing this, you can celebrate the struggles you overcome at the end of the day.

9. Remember, Things Happen for a Reason

Every circumstance we encounter in our life is designed to teach us and that lesson is in turn passed on to others.

Sometimes we’re fortunate enough to figure out the lesson to be learned, while other times, we simply need to have faith that if the lesson wasn’t meant directly for us to learn from, how we handled it was observed by someone who needed to learn.

Your solitude and feeling of lost, in this instance, although painful possibly, may be teaching someone else.

10. Journal During This Time

Record your thoughts when you’re at the height of loneliness and feeling lost. You’ll be amazed when you reflect back at how you viewed things at the time and how far you’ve come later.

This time (if recorded) can give you a keen insight into who you are and what makes you feel the way you feel.

11. Remember You Aren’t the First to Feel This Way

It’s quite common to feel as if we’re alone and no one else has ever felt this way before. We think this because at the time of our distress, we’re silently observing others around us who are seemingly fine in every way.

The truth is, we can’t possibly know the struggles of those around us unless they elect to share them. We ALL have known this pain!

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Try confiding in someone you trust and ask them how they deal with these feelings when they experienced it. You may be surprised at what you learn.

12. Ask for Help If the Problem Persists

The feeling of being lost and lonely is common to everyone, but typically it will last for a relatively short period of time.

Most people will confess to, at one time or another, being in a “funk.” But if the problem persists longer than you feel it should, don’t ignore it.

When your ability to reason and consider things rationally becomes impaired, do not poo poo the problem away and think it isn’t worthy of attention. Seek medical help.

Afraid to ask for help? Here’s how to change your outlook to aim high!

Final Thoughts

Loneliness and a sense of feeling lost can in many ways be extremely painful and difficult to deal with at best. However, these feelings can also serve as a catalyst for change in our lives if we acknowledge them and act.

Above anything, cherish your mental well being and don’t underestimate its worth. Seek professional guidance if you’re unable to distinguish between a sense of freedom for yourself and a sense of despair.

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Featured photo credit: Andrew Neel via unsplash.com

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