A friend of mine recently sent me a link to this blog post (titled: “A neuroscience researcher reveals 4 rituals that will make you a happier person”) from Business Insider. It describes (duh) four ways to increase your happiness, and the neuroscience research that backs them.
Ask yourself what you’re grateful for. Even negative emotions like guilt and shame stimulate the brain’s reward center; Worrying about something does make your brain feel better about the issue, but it’s not a long-term solution. Gratitude will apparently stimulate the parts of the brain that produce dopamine and seratonin, which actually do make you feel better. Even searching for something to be grateful for can have positive effects.
Label negative feelings. Even biologically, suppressing negative emotions isn’t a good practice. Describing the negative feelings in one or two words can reduce the emotion. It’s that simple.
Make a decision. It doesn’t have to be perfect or the world’s best ever decision, it just has to be “good enough.” The act of making a decision increases the feeling of control over our lives, which lessens stress. “When you make a decision on a goal and then achieve it, you feel better than when good stuff happens by chance.” Interestingly, there’s a good note in the article on how this ties into building good exercise habits.
Touch people. Not the kind of touching that gets you in trouble, but the kind that indicates acceptance and connection. Apparently “social exclusion activates the same circuitry as physical pain,” so even small touches like handshakes and pats on the back are okay. Touching someone you love, even just holding hands, can actually reduce pain. Research supports five (long) hugs a day for four weeks to seriously boost happiness. In lieu of hugs, getting a massage will work as well.