Training the brain to be happy

You can improve the function of your prefrontal cortex by repeating positive actions and thoughts
"The key is to be mindful of your inner dialogue, focus on the positive aspects of your life, and make a conscious effort to do things that make you happy."
"The key is to be mindful of your inner dialogue, focus on the positive aspects of your life, and make a conscious effort to do things that make you happy."

Happiness is a fantastic emotion to strive towards. It can lead to a healthier, longer life. A happy life involves less stress, better relationships, and even a boosted immune system.

If you have been feeling stressed or if you have been having a lot of negative emotions lately, happiness may be hard to come by. Naturally you may be wanting to rewire your brain to be happy.

Fortunately, there is a distinct possibility of your desire being met. According to the latest research, a powerful technique called “mindfulness” - the practice of purposely focusing your attention on the present moment - has been found to be the key element to happiness and a healthier mind and body.

All it takes is a bit of effort and conscious thought, and you can start to enjoy a happier, more positive mindset.

The human brain developed with a negative bias for survival. We are more likely to pay attention to and remember negative things because they were often associated with danger and threats in our ancestral past.

However, times have changed, and we now live in a world where most of us do not constantly face life-threatening situations. Our negativity bias is no longer helpful and can actually lead to depression, anxiety, and other mental health problems.

Scientists used to think that our brains were hardwired and that we couldn’t change them. However, they’ve since discovered that this isn’t true. We now know it’s possible to change how our brains work. This process is called neuroplasticity, which refers to the brain’s ability to reorganize itself by forming new neural connections throughout our lives.

This means we can change our brains by changing our thoughts and behaviour. In other words, you can rewire your brain for happiness by practicing positive thinking, gratitude, mindfulness, and other happiness-inducing activities! The prefrontal cortex is the area of your brain responsible for executive functioning or higher-order thinking.

This includes things like planning, decision-making, and impulse control. You can improve the function of your prefrontal cortex by repeating positive actions and thoughts. The more you do something, the easier it gets; eventually, it becomes second nature.

The key is to be mindful of your inner dialogue, focus on the positive aspects of your life, and make a conscious effort to do things that make you happy. If you start doing these things, you will begin to see a difference in your overall happiness levels.

Happiness often translates to a healthy life. If you let go of all the negativity, you can enjoy a peaceful life. You can even train your brain to focus on all things positive.

Seek out the good things in your life and don’t look for errors or flaws in everything you do or come across. Also, be optimistic about the future as much as possible. This will ultimately make you happier and healthier.

Positive psychology focuses on your inner strength and character traits that promote happiness and health. Exercising, laughing, bonding, having social contacts, loving and caring for someone are activities that all increase the release of endorphins in the brain. They are endogenous neurotransmitters promoting happiness.

You would know them as the happy hormones. Happiness promotes a problem-solving approach, increases motivation to complete goals, helps in connecting with like-minded people, improves the immune functioning and overall leads to longer life spans.

Having an optimistic outlook in life, being joyful and happy may help to improve heart health, decrease risk of stroke and heart attacks, improve sleep, prevent early onset of memory loss, promote healthier eating, prevent obesity and issues of chronic pain, and arthritis amongst other things. The following small steps once taken will make a big difference. 

Practice Mindfulness in any way you like. The power of becoming self-aware about your beliefs and feelings without judging them is called mindfulness. When you are mindfully aware, you are living in the present moment and not letting your thoughts or emotions control you. The easiest ways is to be aware of your surroundings.

Pay attention to the sights, sounds, smells, and textures around you. Notice the way things feel, both physically and emotionally. Focus on your strengths. The first step to this is in identification of your character traits which are protective.

For example, if being creative is a strength of yours then dedicate a few minutes each or a few days each week into channelling that in a goal-directed way. You can paint, draw, learn music, cook something new or interesting.

Be appreciative by cultivating gratitude. Practising gratitude and being appreciative can be a very soothing experience for your mind.  It may seem counterintuitive, but gratitude is a choice. You can choose to focus on your life’s positive or negative aspects.

If you choose to focus on the positive, you’ll start to feel more grateful and happier as a result. Feeling grateful is not always easy, especially when things are tough. But if you make a conscious effort to find things to be thankful for, it will become easier, and your happiness levels will increase.

One great way to cultivate gratitude is to keep a gratitude journal. It is a great way to be focused and find an avenue to increase your emotional quotient. 

Develop positive skills by practicing cognitive restructuring. The good thing about positive psychology is that it can be learnt.

Train your mind to cultivate mindfulness, reflective listening, perspective taking and then use this awareness in a problem-solving way that improves collaboration between people at work or home.

If you want to be happy, substitute your negative thoughts with positive ones. To do this, you must first identify when you are thinking negative thoughts and then challenge them.

This process is called cognitive restructuring and involves identifying the negative thoughts or worries that are causing you distress, challenging the accuracy of the thought, developing a more realistic or positive perspective of the situation and practicing repeating the new, more positive thought until it becomes automatic.

Once you’ve challenged the accuracy of the negative thought, you can develop a more positive way of looking at the situation. It may seem silly at first, but repeating this positive thought can help ease your anxiety and worry. 

Get happy with meditation. According to Harvard Medical School, regular meditation can lower feelings of depression, anxiety, and stress. It can also improve focus, concentration, and self-awareness.

Meditation has been shown to decrease activity in the amygdala, which is the part of the brain responsible for negative emotions like fear and anxiety. It also increases activity in the prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for executive functioning. 

Practise kindness. Positive psychology interventions focusing on compassion can be simple acts like buying someone a small token of love, volunteering for a noble cause, donating something, or helping a stranger in need. Kindness reinforces happiness and positivity and being kind can make you healthier).

Seek meaning in your life and engage in meaningful experiences. It helps in understanding what is meaningful to us in life and why, and what we can do to achieve the things that matter in life. A person who has clarity of goals and expectations is more likely to feel happier and content.

Use positive visualization and believe in the power of positive imagery. Close your eyes and imagine a beautiful day. Think about where you would want to be, with whom, what you might want to be doing and then imagine doing that, says the expert.

These kind of brief thought experiments promote a happy outlook. Positive visualization is a technique that involves using your imagination to visualize yourself achieving specific goals. The first step is to choose a goal that you want to achieve.

It can be anything from losing weight to getting a promotion at work. Once you have chosen your goal, the next step is to close your eyes and imagine yourself achieving it. Positive visualization is a great way to increase your happiness because it helps to program your mind for success.

Bhushan Lal Razdan, formerly of the Indian Revenue Service, retired as Director General of Income Tax (Investigation), Chandigarh. Post-retirement, he is actively associated with medical, educational, cultural and heritage issues and joined various societies and trusts to promote these objectives. Occasionally he contributes articles of contemporary relevance in Newspapers and Magazines. He is also the Chairman of Vitasta Health Care Trust

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