What can make you happier? Two pragmatic tips from Neuroscience.
Updated: Feb 28, 2019
It is fascinating to hear what Neuroscientists say about the grey matter between our ears. Especially, when they talk about the brain areas that consistently light up, when people have an fMRI. Here are two simple and practical steps to consciously activate various parts of your brain!
Tip No #1 from Neuroscientists is to get back into the habit of physically and genuinely hugging someone. Forget about only texting or whatsapping your loved ones during the day. As you see your loved one come through the fron door: stop, put down what you’re doing and go and give him / her a great big and meaningful hug! Your new mantra could be : touch rather than text. A long, warm hug releases a neurotransmitter and hormone called oxytocin, which in turn reduces the reactivity in the emotional center of your brain. The prescription from Neuroscientists is as simple as 5 hugs a day, for 4 days and then sense into how much happier you are feeling.
Oh dear, what will you do if you don’t live with a significant other and you don’t feel its appropriate to hug at work? The answer is that the option of a massage will give you a similar ROI. The results are clear that massage boosts your serotonin by as much as 30 percent. There’s also a lovely domino effect, as the massage reduces pain because the oxytocin system activates pain-killing endorphins. Massage also improves sleep and reduces fatigue, which again increases serotonin and dopamine. Plus decreasing the stress hormone cortisol. This upward spiral is hugely beneficial for your happiness levels.
You may even want to take it a step further by using these elevated feelings to kick-start new good habits.
Tip No #2 from Neuroscientists seems too simple to be really effective. This is to start ‘labeling your negative feelings’. If you ask someone how they feel about a situation, you’ll probably find that many people cannot name or label their feeling/s. many people have mastered the art of distraction, and don't take the time to understand and label their specific feelings.
In an fMRI study appropriately named as ‘Putting Feelings Into Words’, participants viewed pictures of people with various facial expressions, displaying a number of different emotions. Each participant’s mirror neurons were activated … similar to the emotions that they saw in the pictures. What was surprising however, was that when they were asked to name that specific emotion, it reduced the activity in the b rain. To be specific , it reduces the reactivity in each person’s ventro-lateral prefrontal cortex. What’s the learning here? Do not suppress your emotions! Rather give your emotions a name. If you label your emotions, your brain reduces the reactivity around that emotion. To activate the prefrontal cortex part of your brain, you need just a few words to describe your emotion.
Labeling your emotions is also a tool for mindfulness. It is in fact such a powerful technique that FBI Hostage negotiators use this as one of their primary tools.
Another consideration : when you label your emotions, make sure that you are meticulous about the types of words you use. For example, you’re stuck in traffic and about to be late for a meeting. Instead of banging your steering wheel and saying: ‘This is disastrous and this is going to ruin my day!’, rather say : ‘This is really irritating, there’s nothing I can do, so I’ll call and tell my colleagues that I’ll be late’. How about then turning the situation into a positive and listening to an interesting Podcast. Change your words, and change your world!