Train your Brain for Happiness

It takes 5 positive experiences to undo one negative one. Hmm. I am not crazy about those odds, perhaps we can increase the numbers in our favour a bit more? According to Rick Hanson Phd. neuropsychologist and author of Hardwiring Happiness we can train our brains to be happier. It all goes back 60 million years ago with the first primate. The world was a hard place to live. You had to learn to survive by gathering/hunting, warfare and overcome  weather and predators. This harsh environment was the beginning of the evolving of the human brain which was constantly adapting to its conditions. The brain developed the negativity bias, which basically focuses on the negative in order to learn from the experience. Your brain will automatically go over a negative experience again and again to put the pieces of the puzzle together in order to learn and not make the same mistake in the future. How many of us have a the experience of having your boss review you and they told you many positives about your work but you can’t stop thinking about the one negative area you need to change? This it the negativity bias coming into play. This in the olden days kept us safe and helped us survive being eaten by wild beasts but today can drive us crazy over analyzing again and again.  What is really important here is how this effects the brain.

In the middle of your brain you have a major circuit system.The amygdala, the hypothalamus and the hippocampus. If someone was to get angry with you, you may become anxious this would cause the amygdala to become active and put you in the fight or flight response. It is an alarm for your hypothalamus which sets off your sympathetic nervous system in the brain stem. Adrenaline, cortisol, norepinephine  and other stress hormones are called into action. As well as a  trace cortical memory networks were created for you to learn from this experience for later learning. The brain is an amazing machine! Let’s keep this very simple here by saying, that the brain creates a physical response to negative stimuli as well a negative neural pathways of learning. The effect of the negative experience creates a snowball  effects which signals stress hormones more quickly and are on high alert even hours and sometimes days afterwards. So feeling stressed, anxious today, leads to us feeling more vulnerable tomorrow and the day after that creating a vicious cycle of negativity.

Rick Hanson believes we can help change the way we think and in turn create more happiness. If we have a negative experience. Once you have taken he time to learns from the experience and process it. That is enough, you do not need to go over it and over it again and again. We need to stop and process it by removing the negative and replace it with a positive memory instead. When you have a fight with a spouse, friend, or boss. remove yourself from the situation. Similar to meditation become neutral in your emotional response by “pulling out the weeds”. In your thoughts remove the comments, or trigger words which you find really upsetting. There are many ways to do this technique, for me,  I do it in meditation daily. I visualize the negative comments, emotions, events flying away like a ballon in the air drifting off. Once you have removed the negative,  draw upon a time you felt really good, a positive memory. Wham- done! You have undone the negative neural pathway and created a new positive one. You can do this little brain trick all day whenever you become aware of the inner voice going crazy perseverating over a a negative comment or event. The brain is a muscle in our body we have the power to control and train. It just may be time to drop the old stories and move ahead in life to a happier story by training your brain.