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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 November 5, 2019

12 Powerful Habits of a Lifelong Learner

12 Powerful Habits of a Lifelong Learner

Formal education is something everyone has to go through to a certain degree, and the knowledge it offers isn’t always that practical in real life. Life long learning is how you improve as a person, bit by bit and day by day.

Life long learners recognize the importance and joy of growth so they never settle for what they currently know and always seek for improvement.

Here are 12 habits of people who value lifelong learning have in common – see how many of them you recognize in yourself.

1. They Read on a Daily Basis

Whatever problem or dilemma you currently face, there’s definitely at least one decent book that discusses it and presents a variety of solutions.

Reading is a great way to open up new horizons, train your brain and revolutionize your life. I can’t even count how many times books completely transformed the way I view the world, and it’s always a change for the better. Through reading, you can connect with successful people and learn from the lessons they share.

Life long learners love to get lost in books and do it regularly. Bill Gates knows that reading matters a lot; on his personal blog, he reviews plenty of game-changing books.

Due to technology, you can access a bookshelf of the wealthiest entrepreneur on this planet.

2. They Attend Various Courses

Whether it’s online or offline, there are countless courses you can participate in without spending a dime on it. These are great opportunities to connect with clever and like-minded people and learn from them.

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Because of the advanced technology, you can now gain knowledge from online programs, starting from coding through self-improvement to programs from top universities.

There are literally endless ways to thrive. What life long learners have in common is squeezing as much as possible out of these opportunities.

3. They Actively Seek Opportunities to Grow

Instead of spending your free time laying on the couch and watching TV, you prefer doing something creative and practical. You know every wasted minute is gone forever.

That’s why you’d rather practice your language skills with a native-speaker you’ve met, engage in local meet up or attend a class that teaches something you always wanted to learn.

Life long learners stay up-to-date with growth opportunities in their areas and participate in them frequently.

4. They Take Care of Their Bodies

“Physical fitness is not only one of the most important keys to a healthy body, it is the basis of dynamic and creative intellectual activity.” — John F. Kennedy

A clever mind combined with a body in a great condition is the best asset you can have. Our bodies were designed to run, walk, jump, swim, lift and much more. Leading a sedentary lifestyle harms both your physical and mental sphere.

Life long learners know the body is your temple. In order to make it flourish for as long as possible, they train regularly, move a lot and eat healthy.

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5. They Have Diverse Passions

Among Steve Jobs’ wise quotes, there’s one I like especially. It’s about connecting the dots:

“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backward. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.” — Steve Jobs

Each dot is some event or skill in your life, and it’s only when you go through these elements that you know how to combine them into something great.

Having a variety of passions indicates that you love to progress. By practicing different skills, you give yourself an advantage over the rest of the people. During hard times, you are more likely to to act intelligently and solve your problems with less effort.

6. They Love Making Progress

If behind the efforts, there is passion and a deep desire to grow, your chances of success are way higher, compared to when you are forced to learn.

Life long learners love to experience the constant growth and improvement. The breakthrough moments help them to notice the impressive change that took place because of the learning process. Any milestone serves as a driving force for further headway.

7. They Challenge Themselves with Specific Goals

In order to keep growing, you clearly define your goals. Smart goal setting is one of the tools to ensure constant growth.

Since you love challenges, a difficult goal doesn’t scare you. Quite the opposite, it keeps you motivated and engaged.

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Research showed that precise and ambitious goals increase the performance of an individual. As we already agreed, life long learners are people who care about their performance, hence they never stop improving.

8. They Embrace Change

A complete change can lead to incredible results. This is especially visible on the example of successful companies.

Oftentimes, it’s that transformation which created space for their so-called overnight success. Twitter was originally created as an internal service to serve Odeo employees. Currently, it has over 300 million monthly active users and is considered the second biggest social network.

As a life long learner, you know a change can lead to extraordinary results so you welcome it and stay open minded about making a shift.

9. They Believe It’s Never Too Late to Start Something

Some people tend to think after a certain age, they are no longer allowed to start something and become successful. The truth is, it’s just a lame excuse not to leave the comfort zone.

Opposite to common misconceptions, there’s no wrong age to begin something. Henry Ford was 45 when he invented the Ford Model T car, which is considered as the first affordable automobile.

Sure, for some domains like becoming a professional athlete, starting early is required. However, to learn and improve for its own sake, you are never too old.

10. Their Attitude to Getting Better Is Contagious

“We now accept the fact that learning is a life long process of keeping abreast of change. And the most pressing task is to teach people how to learn.” — Peter Drucker

There’s nothing better than to see your surroundings getting involved in what you actively participate in. Oftentimes, the best way to achieve that is to inspire them and be the example. As Gandhi would say, you need to be the change you want to see in the world.

As a life long learner, you are extremely passionate about the constant growth and people around you can sense that positive attitude. As a result, they start acting similarly.

11. They Leave Their Comfort Zone

Is it really better to step out of your comfort zone? The answer is always yes.

You always embrace discomfort as you know the path to success leads through hardship and countless obstacles. Instead of being afraid of facing them, you challenge yourself to overcome more and more difficult handicaps.

Every time you get out of your comfort zone, regardless whether you win or fail, you learn something new. That’s the part you love the most!

12. They Never Settle Down

“Knowledge is exploding, so you need to commit yourself to a plan for life long learning.” — Don Tapscott

A sense of being clever enough is something you don’t experience. Without a doubt, you appreciate what you already know, but that’s never a reason to stop. You just know once you stop learning, you lose the amazing privilege humans have, namely an ability to a never-ending intellectual development.

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Featured photo credit: Christin Hume via unsplash.com

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