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Neuroscientists Suggest These 5 Easy Ways To Create Genuine Happiness In Your Life

Neuroscientists Suggest These 5 Easy Ways To Create Genuine Happiness In Your Life

Scientific studies on how to improve mood and increase feelings of happiness have proliferated in recent years, thanks in part to the positive psychology movement. Scientists across the board are now increasingly investigating and shedding light on ongoing insights into mood, personality and cognition.

Neuroscientists, in particular, have taken an interest in understanding what brings about an upward spiral of happiness and well-being. As you probably know, not everyone is born with a sunny disposition, but science says we can all learn how to bring more meaning, satisfaction and happiness into our lives.

Here are some key ways neuroscientists say you can create genuine happiness in your life:

1. Express gratitude for life’s everyday gifts.

Different studies show that taking time to appreciate life’s small gifts affects our brains in a positive way at the biological level. According to UCLA neuroscience researcher Alex Korb Ph.D., in his eye-opening book The Upward Spiral: Using Neuroscience to Reverse the Course of Depression, One Small Change at a Time, “The benefits of gratitude start with the dopamine system because feeling grateful activates the brain stem region that produces dopamine.” Dopamine is one of four primary chemicals (Dopamine, Oxytocin, Serotonin, and Endorphins) in the brain that effect happiness.

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Of course, sometimes life lands a pretty mean punch and you might feel like there’s nothing to be grateful for. It doesn’t matter, though. You don’t have to find anything to be grateful for. It’s the searching that counts.

“It’s not finding gratitude that matters most; it’s remembering to look in the first place. Remembering to be grateful is a form of emotional intelligence,” Korb explains. “One study found that it actually affected neuron density in both the ventromedial and lateral prefrontal cortex. These density changes suggest that as emotional intelligence increases, the neurons in these areas become more efficient. With higher emotional intelligence, it simply takes less effort to be grateful,” he writes.

So express gratitude to people more often, and for life’s little gifts every day.

2. Step up and make more bold decisions.

Don’t shun decision making. When you make decisions, your brain feels in control. It feels at rest. And feeling in control and at rest reduces stress and improves mood. What’s more, brain studies show deciding also boosts pleasure feelings. When you make a decision on a goal and then achieve it, you feel better than when good things just happen by chance.

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For example, if you go to the gym because you feel you have to or you should, well, it’s not really a voluntary decision. Your brain doesn’t get the pleasure boost and the act just feels like a source of stress. However, if you decide to go to the gym and actively choose to exercise, you activate rewarding dopamine activity in the brain and actually enjoy the activity.

So make more decisions in your life and you’ll be happier. You don’t even have to make the 100% right decision. Trying to be perfect overwhelms the brain and makes you feel out of control. Just make a “good enough” decision, says Korb. “…recognizing that good enough is good enough activates more dorsolateral prefrontal areas, which helps you feel more in control…,” he adds.

3. Touch people and hug them more.

The quality of our relationships plays a big role in our brain’s feelings of happiness. “One of the primary ways to release oxytocin (bonding hormone) is through touching,” writes Korb. “Obviously, it’s not always appropriate to touch most people, but small touches like handshakes and pats on the back are usually okay. For people you’re close with, make more of an effort to touch more often,” he says.

Moreover, “A hug, especially a long one, releases a neurotransmitter and hormone oxytocin, which reduces the reactivity of the amygdale,” Korb adds. The amygdala is the integrative center in the brain that plays a key role in processing our emotions, emotional behavior and motivation.

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Spend time with friends, have fun and give more hugs. Neuroscience says it’ll boost your happiness. In fact, other studies shows getting five hugs a day for four weeks will increase your happiness big time.

4. Label you’re feelings in a word or two.

“…in one fMRI study, appropriately titled “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,” writes Korb in his book.

Kevin Ochsner, a professor of psychology at Columbia University whose research interests include the psychological and neural processes involved in emotion and person perception, concurs. He says trying to suppress a negative emotion doesn’t work and can backfire on you. You might look fine outwardly, Ochsner says, but inwardly your limbic system is just as aroused as without suppression, and in some cases, even more aroused.

So if you feel awful, give that awfulness a name. Describe that emotion. Nervous? Frustrated? Sad? Angry? Maybe you’re just “Bored.” Label your current emotional state in just a word or two and see the emotion’s impact reduce just like that. Lifting your mood can be that simple.

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5. Lead a more generous and compassionate life.

This might sound a bit preachy, but it is actually backed by neuroscience. Being compassionate and giving to others increases your overall well-being and boosts feelings of happiness more than what you’d experience if you focused entirely on yourself.

A brain-imaging study by neuroscientist Jordan Grafman from the National Institutes of Health revealed that the “pleasure centers” in the brain are equally active when we observe someone giving money to charity as when we receive money ourselves. Evidently, humans are hardwired for giving and compassion- contrary to the popular belief that we are essentially selfish!

In another revealing study led by Elizabeth Dunn at the University of British Columbia, participants received a sum of money and half of them were instructed to spend the money on others. The other half of participants were told to spend the money on themselves. At the end of the study, participants who spent money on others felt happier and more satisfied than those who spent all the money on themselves.

Giving usually makes people feel good. This is true even for infants. In a report by Lara Aknin, also from the University of British Columbia, it was observed that even in children as young as two, giving treats to others increased those kids’ happiness more than receiving treats themselves.

So be more compassionate and generous to others. In doing so , you’ll create genuine happiness in your own life.

More by this author

David K. William

David is a publisher and entrepreneur who tries to help professionals grow their business and careers, and gives advice for entrepreneurs.

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Last Updated on July 13, 2020

9 Simple Ways to Always Stay Positive

9 Simple Ways to Always Stay Positive

It’s common to be struck with a bout of pessimism, or to naturally be more towards the pessimistic end of the perspective spectrum. It’s hard to see the positives in life and become an optimist when you’re lost in the murky waters of negative thinking.

However, Henrik Edberg, the founder of The Positivity Blog is here to share nine ways we can create a more optimistic outlook and positive perspective:

“Nobody can go back and start a new beginning, but anyone can start today and make a new ending.” — Maria Robinson

When I was younger — in my teens and early 20s — I was trapped. Not physically, but mentally: by the destructive thought pattern called pessimism. This negative thinking poisoned what might have been a pretty good and opportunity-filled childhood, adolescence, and early adulthood. This pessimism created ceilings and walls where there really were none.

Throughout the period when I was ridden by pessimism, my life and I mostly stood still. Looking back, it was a terrible waste. If you are in pessimistic place, you don’t have to stay there for the rest of your life. I didn’t, for I learned to replace my negative thinking with optimism.

In this article I’ll explore nine positivity habits that have helped me to go from someone who was pessimistic most of the time to someone who is now optimistic almost all the time. I recommend to not try to add all the habits at one go but to choose one habit and to practice it for 30 days so it becomes a habit, before adding the next.

1. Ask Yourself the Right Questions

This is the simplest but perhaps also the most important habit I have discovered in adopting an optimistic mindset. The questions we ask ourselves day in and day out when we wind up in negative, difficult or uncertain situations make all the difference in our life.

A pessimist might ask him/herself questions like:

  • “Why did this happen to me?”
  • “Why do bad things happen to me all the time?”

But an optimist asks him/herself the questions that open up the mind to new viewpoints and possibilities. A few of my favorite questions for finding the optimistic perspective are:

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  • “What is one good thing about this situation?”
  • “What can I learn from this situation?”
  • “What is one small step I can take today to start solving this situation?”

2. Create a Positive Environment to Live In

The people you spend your time with and the information you let influence your mind will have a huge effect on your attitude and how you think about things.

Watch this YouTube video and learn the power of a positive environment:

So choose to:

  • Spend more time with the people who lift you up. And less time – or no time – with people who just bring you down by being negative and critical. Read: You are the Average of the 5 People You Spend the Most Time With
  • Let in the information that supports you. Spend less time on negative and self-esteem damaging media sources and spend more time reading positive and constructive blogs and books, watching motivating movies, listening to inspirational songs, and listening to audio books and podcasts created by optimistic people. Check out 12 Inspirational Movies With Important Life Lessons To Learn and 25 Most Inspirational Songs of All Time.

3. Be Grateful for What You Have (Don’t Forget About Yourself Too)

A very simple and quick way to boost the positive energy in your life is to tap into gratitude.

I usually do it by asking one or more of these questions:

  1. What can I be grateful for in my life today?
  2. Who are 3 people that I can be grateful to have in my life and why?
  3. What are 3 things I can be grateful for about myself?

Just spend 60 seconds or a few minutes during your day with answering one of these questions to reap the wonderful benefits.

4. Don’t Forget About Your Physical Self

Being an optimist isn’t just about thinking in a different way. It is also about caring for the physical part of ourselves.

I have found that working out a couple of times a week, enough quality sleep each night and eating healthy food has a huge effect on my mindset.

If I mismanage those very basic things then negative thoughts pop up far more often and I become more pessimistic and shut down about the possibilities in my life.

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So don’t neglect these basic fundamentals. Just caring for your physical self the right way can minimize a whole bunch of problems in life.

5. Start Your Day in an Optimistic Way

The way you start your morning can set the tone for the rest of your day. For example, a stress-free morning often leads to less stress during the rest of the day.

So how can you set an optimistic tone for your day?

A three-step combination that has worked very well for me is to ask myself a gratitude question during breakfast, read some positive information online or in a book very early in the morning and then follow that up with exercising.

This sets my mind on the right path and fills me up with energy for my day.

6. Focus on Solutions

A sure way to feel more negative about a situation is to sit around and do nothing about it. Instead, use the questions I shared in step one and open up your mind to the possibilities of the situation you are in.

If you have trouble to get started with taking action, ask yourself:

What is one small step I can take today to get the ball rolling?

Then take that small step forward. However small this step is, it can have a big effect in your mood and thoughts. If the step feels too big or it just makes you procrastinate, then ask yourself:

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What is an even smaller step I can take to move forward today?

The most important thing is to move forward, even if it’s a tiny baby step.

7. Reduce Your Worries

The worrying habit is a powerful and destructive one and can take over anyone’s thinking. It used to be one of my biggest obstacles to optimism and to moving forward in life.

Two effective steps that have helped me and still help me to this day to minimize the worries are:

  1. Ask yourself: how many of my worries ever happened in reality? If you are like me you will find that the answer is: very few. Most of the things you fear throughout your life will never happen. They are just nightmares or monsters in your own mind. This question can help you to do a reality check, to calm down and to realize that you have most likely just been building another imaginary nightmare.
  2. Focus on solutions and the action you can take. The worries grow stronger in a foggy mind and an inactive body. So use the questions in Steps 1 and 6 to move out of your worries and into resolution.

8. Don’t Let Ideals Ruin Things

A common mistake people make when making a shift in their attitudes is that they think that they have be perfect and do things perfectly all the time. This traps them from being positive.

Changing to a positive attitude can be gradual. While you may slip and stumble, continuing this way over time will strengthen your positive viewpoint more and more.

But if you set an inhuman standard for yourself and think you have to go from being a pessimist to always being an optimist, then you may find it hard to live up to that. And so you may feel like a failure. You get angry with yourself. And you may even give up on changing this habit and fall back into negative thinking.

So instead, focus on gradual change. If you are optimistic 40% of the time right now, try to improve this to being optimistic 60% of the time. Then, increase that to 80% when you are used to the new standard, then subsequently 100% if you can.

This focus on gradual improvement is far more sustainable and likely to bring long-term success than trying to reach an inhuman standard grounded in perfection.

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9. Finally, a Reminder to Help You to Not Give Up

I would like to end this article with a simple but powerful and timeless thought that comforted and encouraged me to continue on when things looked bleak.

That thought is: It is always darkest before the dawn.

This thought has helped me to hold on and keep going when my social skills and dating life was just plain bad. It has helped me to continue on in my online business when things looked like they would never pick up. It has helped me to put one foot over another even when things looked dark.

I have found this thought to be very true. Why? Because when things seemed to be at the lowest for my blog, business, dating life or life in general, something positive would always happened. That’s probably because being at a low point forced me to change how I did things.

But maybe also because life has a way of evening itself out when I go on. By taking action rather than give up, something good will always happens.

Seeing this thought live itself out has strengthened my belief in staying optimistic, in taking action and to keep going even when going through rough patches.

Re-syndicated 9 Simple Habits to Stay Positive in Life | Personal Excellence

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Featured photo credit: Allie Smith via unsplash.com

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