Brain research is both shifting and validating common knowledge. This article by Jon Spayde in the United Health Care bulletin is worth posting AND READING in it’s entirety.
How to get happy in a hurry, according to neuroscience
By Jon Spayde
“. . . Time.com blogger Eric Barker lists four rapid, in-the-moment ways to feel happy – he calls them “rituals” – based on recent neuroscience, and featured in a new book by UCLA neuroscience researcher Alex Korb: “The Upward Spiral: Using Neuroscience to Reverse the Course of Depression, One Small Change at a Time.”‘
“1. Ask yourself what you’re grateful for. A warm house, a pet you love, your success at Minecraft? Whatever. Gratitude, says Korb, boosts both dopamine and serotonin, the two most powerful neurotransmitter chemicals involved in giving you a feeling of calm and well-being. “Know what Prozac does?” asks Barker. “Boosts the neurotransmitter serotonin. So does gratitude.” And don’t worry if you can’t immediately find things to be grateful for, Korb says. The mental search for gratitude alone will begin to elevate the level of those pleasure chemicals”.
“2. Label negative feelings. Simply saying to yourself “I’m sad” or “I’m anxious” seems like a pretty paltry happiness strategy. But here’s what Korb writes: “…in one fMRI study, appropriately titled ‘Putting Feelings into Words,’ participants viewed pictures of people with emotional facial expressions. Predictably, each participant’s amygdala [the brain’s fight-or-flight alarm bell] 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.”‘
“3. Make a decision. Just deciding to do something can reduce worry and anxiety right away. Korb: “Making decisions includes creating intentions and setting goals – all three are part of the same neural circuitry and engage the prefrontal cortex in a positive way, reducing worry and anxiety. Making decisions also helps overcome striatum activity, which usually pulls you toward negative impulses and routines. Finally, making decisions changes your perception of the world – finding solutions to your problems and calming the limbic system.”‘
“But what about making the “right” decision? Isn’t that stressful? Korb counsels letting go of perfectionism. The “good enough” decision is…well, good enough to make our brains go into at-ease mode. “We don’t just choose the things we like,” says Korb. “We also like the things we choose.”‘
“4. Touch people (appropriately). “One of the primary ways to release oxytocin [the pleasure-inducing ‘cuddle chemical’] is through touching,” Korb writes. “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.”‘
“A hug is particularly effective, he says, mobilizing oxytocin against that alarm-bell amygdala. And if you don’t have anybody to hug, go get a massage: “The results are fairly clear that massage boosts your serotonin by as much as 30 percent. Massage also decreases stress hormones and raises dopamine levels.”‘
by Judith Westerfield