I find joy most days and in most situations. I am generally optimistic and look for the best in people. My faith tells me God is good and so are His plans. Even so, sometimes sadness or stress lands heavy on my shoulders.
The other day an article captured my attention. It offered four practical activities, supported by neurology, that will help make us happy. The four actions are not difficult to apply, even if we are not brain researchers, and they are simple yet powerful. I want to share them with you:
1. Ask, “What am I grateful for?
“Gratitude makes us feel better” + “A grateful attitude improves our mood and increases our energy” = TRUTH. Gratitude activates our brain to produce dopamine and serotonin – chemicals that enable us to see rewards and take action to move toward them. As an additional benefit, when we are grateful for something or someone, those chemicals give us a natural “high” which motivates us to feel it again and so repeat the process.
The article also taught me something new:
Even when life is hard and we can’t find anything for our gratitude list…
it doesn’t matter! The simple act of searching has the same effect!
2. Name your negative feelings.
Pretending not to feel bad or suppressing negative emotions does not work to make us feel better, and sometimes has the opposite effect. Even if we can fake it on the outside, our internal limbic system is reacting.
On the other hand, if we voice our feelings, it reduces the amygdala reaction in our brain. Describing our emotions with a word or two helps diffuse the intensity.
We will increase our happiness
when we state how we feel when we are not happy.
**An interesting side note: Labeling is a primary tool used in hostage situations to diffuse negative emotions.
3. Make a decision.
Making decisions also calms the limbic system, reducing stress and worry. We do not have to make a perfect decision – a good enough decision will help. Deciding gives us a sense of control, and feeling in control reduces the stress hormone cortisol… and increases dopamine activity. In addition, if we do something because we “should” or because we “have to”, we do not get the same benefit.
We feel better when we choose to do something that produces a good result
than when something good happens by chance.
4. Touch people.
When we feel rejection in relationships, our brain circuitry reacts the same way it does for physical pain (activating the anterior cingulate and insula). We all need to feel love and acceptance.
Small touches like handshakes and pats on the back release oxytocin which activates pain-killing endorphins. Holding someone’s hand during a medical procedure lowers the discomfort level. Massage also increases dopamine and serotonin activtity. And the more we care for the person, the more their touch helps.
Hugs are powerful.
So there you have it. Four “easy” activities that can make you more happy. 🙂
Which of these activities can you practice today? What else makes you happy?
You might also want to read: got the gratitude attitude? or learning to be thankful