Happiness is a skill, and you can have it!
Many of us aspire to have more happiness in our life. When we think about how to achieve this, we may think of external things that will make it happen- a better job, a leaner body, a new partner, or just getting more stuff. Of course, we can’t separate our brain from our environment, and cultivating healthy relationship is key to our psychological well-being.
Yet the reality is happiness does not come from the external things in our lives. For instance, you may have noticed others with more difficult circumstances than yours who seem to be happier than you. Instead, happiness is a result of our inner state of mind, which doesn’t necessarily depend on what’s going on around us.
Can you really control our inner state of mind? Yes you can! Research has revealed we all have a “happiness baseline” that is determined 50% by genetics, 10% by life circumstances, and 40% by attitude. This means when we can shift our attitude, we can make a significant improvement in our level of happiness! Neuroplasticity, or the ability to change our brain and thereby change our mind, exists even in adulthood, and we can strengthen the neural pathways in our prefrontal cortex associated with happiness.
Neuroscientist Richard Davidson put it this way "Social and emotional learning can change brain function and actually brain structure and can produce adaptive emotional and cognitive functioning as a consequence." In other words, you can train yourself to be less anxious, have greater compassion for yourself and others, and think in a more positive way, all great predictors of increased happiness.
So how can you train your brain?
Neuroscientific research has shown the following practices to be effective:
This is the intentional, accepting and non-judgmental focus of one's attention on the emotions, thoughts and sensations occurring in the present moment” Zgierska et al., 2009. This form of meditation can be practiced on your own, or in groups.
Body relaxation/mindfulness of the body:
Spend 5 minutes mentally scanning the body and noticing sensations throughout, allowing all areas to relax.
Savouring positive emotions:
Help positive events become positive experiences by recalling in detail a positive event, and both the emotions associated with it and the sensory information --‐‑ sights, smells, sounds, etc. Allow these to linger with you, letting them fill your body and mind, registering deeply in your emotional memory. Keep relaxing the body and absorbing the positive experience, for up to 30 seconds.