Have you ever known someone who just couldn’t see the good in any situation? Who was seemingly paralyzed when it came to seeing or finding possibilities in life? It’s frustrating. This mentality feels impossible to work with. And I know we all experience some of that ourselves, at one time or another. But what if we could rewire our brains?I recently watched a Ted talk that hit on so many important ideas that I really want you to know about. Although a person may have already been labeled a pessimist or an optimist, I believe this trait is flexible. Your whole life can open up if you choose to move toward hope and possibility, regardless of how stuck you feel in the moment.
Please watch this very entertaining 12 minute talk by Shawn Achor, and then we’ll talk about it afterward.
So interesting, right? Here are some of the points that really stood out to me:
- There is an assumption that our happiness is determined by external factors in our lives– but the truth is that it’s all about how our brains process the world around us.
- If we change our perception of what creates happiness and success, we can change the way we pursue and experience it.
- Top predictors of job success are not high IQ levels, but levels of optimism, the ability to see stress as a positive challenge, and social support systems. This is huge.
- The idea that success comes before happiness is completely backwards and counter-productive.
- Raising your level of present happiness produces a more productive, clear brain, making it easier to see possibilities and create scenarios in which you experience successful outcomes. Energy levels, creativity and even intelligence increase in a happy internal environment. That is powerful!
- Dopamine, the happiness chemical, not only makes you feel good, but it turns on your brains ability to learn and adapt, allowing you to find more possibility and paths toward satisfaction and happiness in your life.
So, how to make this huge shift? You can do certain things to habitually bring you into the right state of mind. Shawn Achor says that using these techniques for just a few minutes a day for just 21 days will actually rewire your brain.
5 Ways to Rewire the Brain for Happiness
- Expressing gratitude. Make a practice of listing three (new) things that you are grateful for every day. Acknowledging the things that bring meaning, value or simple happiness to your life will bring your awareness to more and more of those daily joys. You will begin to habitually see the good and all of the graces that surround you– and you will begin to expect them, which is the essence of optimism.
- Journaling. I am a big fan of writing daily, both the good and bad. But for this particular purpose, write once a day about a positive experience you have had in the last 24 hours. Go into detail and relive it– this way, you experience it again and it sinks deeper into your psyche and will affect your view of the world.
- Exercise. Exercise is great on so many levels for our health. In this application, it is a way of taking control and making a difference in your own life through your actions. I think this is particularly helpful for people who are feeling that they are at the mercy of their circumstances. It makes a big difference to get up, lace up, and do something that will make a difference for yourself– even if it’s just for 30 minutes a day.
- Meditation. This practice is more important now than ever, I think, because of the ways that our attentions are pulled in so many directions. It retrains the brain to focus on one thing at a time, and allows a more effective type of attention. You might want to try this simple meditation technique for beginners.
- Random acts of kindness. Achor recommends sending a note every day to someone in your network, thanking them for something they did that you appreciated. Being kind or generous teaches us through our own actions that there really is a lot of kindness in the world, and to trust the world around us more. This shift will significantly reduce the level of stress or threat we experience when we believe that people cannot be trusted, or that the world is “out to get” us.
This information is really exciting. I, for one, love the idea that we can choose to experience happiness without achieving the cultural markers we had assumed were necessary for “arriving” at that place of success.
I think a lot about the fact that life is short— possibly much shorter than we know. What if today is my last, or five years from now? I don’t want to be waiting for any sort of “arrival” marker in order to be living fully and loving my life. Can we agree that we have arrived? That this is the good stuff?
But what if life is pretty unbearable for you right now? I am not saying, suck it up and start enjoying. No way– I have lived through enough really hard seasons myself to ever say something like that. However, I do think that using these exercises will help you to move through the hardest parts, into the lighter and brighter experiences of life.
For those of you who are going through a really difficult time of transition or facing some serious life challenges, you will want to read Pruned: Blossoming Through Life’s Difficult Seasons. It was written to help you through these times, to not only survive them, but to come through with a clearer vision for your life and to see possibilities open up even within the challenges.
Have you adopted a daily practice or habit that has made you happier? We would love to hear about it!