The bad news: Our brains are wired to be negative. The good news: Happiness doesn’t mean you have to be naive, just think realistically.
Wouldn’t it be awesome if we could hack into our own brains and rewire them to be happier?
Science has shown we actually can thanks to a phenomenon called experience-dependent neuroplasticity. “It’s a fancy term to say the brain learns from our experiences,” says Rick Hanson, neuropsychologist and author of the bookHardwiring Happiness. “As we understand better and better how this brain works, it gives us more power to change our mind for the better.”
Hanson assures he isn’t just talking new-age mumbo jumbo. “This is not just ‘smell the roses,’” he says. “I am talking about positive neuroplasticity. I am talking about learning. … The brain is changing based on what flows through it.”
Understanding how our brains function can help us better control them. Here are some key takeaways from Hanson on how our brains work when it comes to wiring for happiness:
If you want to be happy, living near a park could be a good idea. More and more research shows a relationship between green space and higher levels of mental health.
The latest comes from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Researchers looked at 2009 survey data that asked 2,500 residents about depression, anxiety, and stress. They next analyzed 229 neighborhoods for vegetation cover. Those places with more trees tended to be happier, and the association was “significant and sizable,” according to a paper discussing the results.
“Social media is basically social comparison on steroids.” … It’s easy to fall into the comparison trap online. “What you don’t see are the same things you don’t post about yourself: fights with loved ones, family drama, insecurities, problems at work.”
“It’s an ingenious business model, when you think about it: promise to help people think positive, then when your techniques fail, conclude that they weren’t thinking positively enough—sending them back for more. Among the many myths and misconceptions dogging the subject of happiness, here are five of the worst, along with some suggestions for what to do instead.”
"If you can cut an hourlong commute each way out of your life, it’s the [happiness] equivalent of making an extra $40,000 a year if you’re at the $50,000 to $60,000 level. It’s an easy way for us to get happier. Move closer to your place of work.”
It’s Friday! Make it a good one by making note of how you carry yourself today. Why? Because, as a growing body of research is finding, the way you hold your body shapes the way your mood will hold you. In other words, your posture predicts your feelings—and your work.
"Smiling is so effective because it may reduce the body’s stress response when you’re in a brief period of stress, regardless of whether you’re happy or not.”
“Using modern technology like fMRI scans, scientists have developed a more thorough understanding of what’s taking place in our brains when we meditate, kind of similar to howscientists have previously looked at measuring creativity in our brains.
The overall difference is that our brains stop processing information as actively as they normally would. We start to show a decrease in beta waves, which indicate that our brains are processing information, even after a single 20-minute meditation session if we’ve never tried it before.”