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Can We Train Our Brains to Be Happier?

How happy are you...really?  Every day, we all face setbacks, frustrations, and uncertainties that can make it difficult to maintain genuine happiness and contentment. And even in good times, we know that happiness can be fleeting.

We can train our brains to be happier by noticing the goodness both within and outside of ourselves; and by paying attention to the everyday moments that awaken positive thoughts and genuine happiness in us.

We could all use a little more happiness in our lives….. Right?  Is it possible that we as humans can find ways to re-wire our brains to be happier?  After doing a little research, here are a few of the simple ways I have found that science has proven we can use to rewire our brains to be happier.

Practice Gratitude

Just like with basketball etc., we can improve our attitudes by practicing.  Thinking of what you're grateful for throughout the day actually increases the level of dopamine in your brain, according to UCLA neuroscientist Alex Korb.  These higher levels of dopamine (dopamine is known as the feel-good neurotransmitter—a chemical that ferries information between neurons) contribute to feelings of pleasure and satisfaction aka happiness.

Get More Sleep

There are mountains of research out there to support that people who get more sleep are happier overall.  But Princeton researchers Daniel Kahneman and Alan B. Krueger found in their study on life satisfaction that sleep quality was one of the most influential factors in rating not just overall life satisfaction, but also daily mood.  So, try to get higher quality sleep every time you snooze.

Think about Your Accomplishments

Can you believe that our brains have been hardwired to focus on the negative, so it's technically up to us to put a stop to that cycle. Alan Korb notes that “thinking about our accomplishments (or about anything we enjoy really) can release serotonin in our brains; by purposefully thinking about one thing that makes us happy, we can effectively train our brains to be more positive.”

Make a decision

Taking action toward a specific goal, even if we aren't sure if it's the exact right one, feels good.  Not only is it more efficient than procrastinating out of fear or perfectionism, but it's also actually good for our brain.  According to Alex Korb, “making decisions includes creating intentions and setting goals” — all three are part of the same neural circuitry and engage the brain in a positive way, reducing worry and anxiety.

If happiness is what we are really trying to attain, know that by training our brains, we can rewire our neural pathways (our minds) to make ourselves happy.

We choose how happy we want to be by the type of thoughts we have. Positive thoughts make us happy, while negative thoughts make us unhappy.  Sounds pretty simple doesn’t it?  By training our brains to think more positively than negatively, we’ll become happier. 

How we react to different situations will become “thinking habits” for us.  By actively choosing positive thoughts, we can reinforce the habit of thinking positively and decrease the habit of thinking negatively.  We can think positively and still be realistic by adding a harmless “but” to every negative thought we produce.

Example: “I feel like I will never lose weight” becomes “I feel like I will never lose weight, but I know there are other people who used to be exactly like me and made it happen!”  At first, we’ll need practice. Adding a “but” to our negative thoughts does not come naturally when we’re just starting out.  However, the more we do it, the more we rewire our brains to build the habit of thinking “but” automatically every time we think negatively……..the more we will create  positive thoughts.

I think that we can all agree that for every person, happiness looks different. However, no matter how we define true happiness, a happier, more contented existence is attainable with a little extra work!  Happiness and fulfillment are within our grasp.  Understanding what works best for us is the first step in finding that happiness.