Summary: We have the ability to increase our happiness by changing the way we think about the world. This scientifically backed post reviews the neuroscience behind what makes us happy.
Key Take Aways:
- Our brain isn't hard-wired as we once believed but is malleable.
- It's possible to re-train our brains so we feel happier.
- Small exercises such as acknowledging good things that happen to us can begin to change our brains.
Happiness is both an emotion and a state that is familiar to most of us. Living a life filled with happy experiences and sharing these with the people around us tends to be viewed as a good plan. However, for many people, at times this is harder than we’d like to believe. Feelings of frustration, disappointment, and irritation among others can sneak up on us. Often they have a purpose, but too often they can linger and hamper our happiness.
Your brain is responsible for your happiness, and yet most people have no idea how their brain works in this regard…and most importantly…how they can work with their brain to be happy more often. That’s where I come in. My sole aim as a blogger here at Delivering Happiness at Work is to equip you with the latest research and thinking in the Neuroscience of Happiness so you can enhance the quality of your personal and work life.
In this installment we’ll cover an overview and one vital neuroscience discovery that changed everything.
So let’s start at the beginning: What is involved from a brain perspective in feeling happy?
There are areas of the brain involved, (the neuroanatomy) and chemicals (the neurobiology including neurotransmitters). Your conscious and unconscious minds are both involved in the process. Everyone’s brains have many millions of neurons (brain cells) that are connected to other neurons. We can think of the connections as forming circuits, like those of formula one cars. Some circuits are dedicated to very specific functions and are located in a small specific area of the brain. Others are distributed throughout the brain. Those involved in feeling happy are found throughout the brain, from the parts deep inside to the outer frontal parts of the brain. This becomes useful to us to be aware of when we look at how to stimulate the circuits.
Happiness arises from the complex interplay between several things including how you think about life, how connected you feel to others, higher pleasures and your brain’s networks. Most of us know people who seem to be happy more often than not, and also those people who always seem to be just missing it. This doesn’t just happen by accident. It isn’t the case that some people are ‘just born happy’ while others are ‘naturally glass half empty’ type people. All of the components that lead to a happy life can be shaped over time.
From a neuroscience perspective, one of the most pivotal discoveries/realisations in the last 50 years is that of neuroplasticity. This essentially means that the brain is plastic. Rather than everything being ‘hard wired’ once you hit 21, in fact your brain is naturally changing on a daily basis. This is both good news and a big responsibility. It means that you can set yourself up for success; you can actively do things that will make it more likely that you lead a happy life.
Here is a really simple exercise you can do to train your brain to be happier: Congratulate yourself on a great achievement. This will get your serotonin flowing and predispose you to looking for more positive things going on in your life. As a result you'll find it easier to be productive at work.
As a blogger here at Delivering Happiness at work I will be focusing on ways you can use the science of your brain to make you happy at work so be sure to check back for my next blog post!
Photo Credit: Benedict Campbell. Wellcome Images.
Amy Brann, author of 'Make Your Brain Work', is passionate about people living lives that are fulfilling and enjoyable. Bridging the gap between cutting edge research from the neuroscience world and people who want to understand how their biggest resource works. After a couple of years at med school Amy set up Synaptic Potential which works with organisations teaching them how their brain works to increase their productivity and most recently the MYBW online community which gives individuals access to a fascinating range of resources. She currently lives in Birmingham, England.