Now, for the past couple of weeks, I’ve been so busy planning and editing…trying to keep you empowered, entertained and educate; and I happened to embark on a journey, to get happy…
I’ve have the pleasure of coming across an excellent read. It’s called Train Your Brain to Get Happy written by Teresa Aubele, PhD, Stan Wenck, EdD and Susan Reynolds. For the past year, I had such an overload of negativity that it was vital for me too catch up with the authors and attempt to get to the core, as it is everyone’s given birthright to be happy… here’s what they had to say about this very resourceful book.
Train Your Brain to Get Happy was written at a very exciting time in neuroscience. The field has exploded in the last decade, and there’s been a flood of brain books, many of which either got bogged down in technical jargon or treated the subject too lightly. We wanted to offer a book that provided the latest, truly fascinating knowledge about the brain, combined with a practical way to use the knowledge to improve your life, written in a way that everyone could easily understand.
Here’s what we learned (sort of in a nutshell):
Happiness begins in the brain (because it’s the source of the mind), and there is now substantial scientific evidence that we have the ability to not only change our brain’s very structure, but to change the way our brain typically responds to stimuli. In other words, we have the ability to generate happiness by guiding and directing our brains. This is why happiness begins “at a cellular level.” Your physical brain generates your mind, which means there is a tangible entity to happiness—namely, neurons.
The idea that neurons could change in response to experience has been accepted since the 1960s, but the field of neuroplasticity (the study of the changeable nature of neurons) exploded in the last two decades. In the last decade, for example, scientists have conducted many thousands of well-respected studies on the subject. The discovery that you can use your mind to change your brain (that thinking thoughts can change your neurons) happened in the last decade, largely thanks to developments in brain scanning technology. Concepts once pretty much written in stone have been abandoned in the last two decades, and new discoveries are occurring weekly, if not daily.
Neuroplasticity doesn’t require the creation of new neurons. New neurons are created in your brain, but it’s usually in pretty discrete areas, such as your olfactory system (your sense of smell), which replaces neurons every few weeks. In fact, most of the neurons in your brain are elders, neurons that you’ve had since you were born.
However, scientists discovered that you have the ability to re-shape your neuronal connections. You can change the strength of connections between two neurons—binding them together (and thus linking thoughts) or weakening their bonds (thus disconnecting thoughts). The process of training your brain usually entails working towards the goal of strengthening or weakening these bonds. Once the training is complete, the new behavior tends to stick (though it can take some time, and may require reinforcement after being learned).
The fight-or-flight response comes from parts of your deeper, more instinctual brain, and the emotions and feelings that are evoked with this response can feel difficult to overcome. However, even some strong emotions, such as fear and anxiety, have a clear brain basis, which means they can be understood and potentially changed.
What we’ve done with the book is to connect all the dots for you, so that you can understand where those negative thoughts are coming from in a physical, brain-based sense, which will help your experiences feel more concrete than abstract.
When you’ve experienced abuse, your brain is housing painful memories and has formed certain neuronal pathways that tend to take you down the same emotional highway. It’s like your brain has a negative groove that you habitually fall into—unless you purposefully and consciously form new grooves (new neuronal connections) and smooth over the old grooves (diminishing dysfunctional neuronal connections).
There are definite ways to tamp down painful memories, such as cognitive behavioral therapy and mindfulness meditation, through which you can quiet the parts of your brain that become overactive in response to painful memories. If you are still being affected by traumatic memories, it’s best to seek therapeutic help, although you can bolster the effects of talk therapy (or drug therapy if needed) by using brain-training techniques—cognitive behavioral therapy to combat negative thoughts, and mindfulness meditation to bolster optimism, for example. Because these techniques have been effective in the type of neuronal changes one needs to heal and be happier, we outline these—and other—techniques in Train Your Brain to Get Happy.
One exciting technique is best described by catchphrases, such as “imagination is reality” or “tricking your brain.” This works because your brain cannot always reliably distinguish between what you are imagining internally and what is really happening. Your thoughts can “trick” your brain into accepting what you want it to believe. For example, if you are imagining a sad event, or reliving a sad event from your past, your brain will respond as if the event were actually happening all over again—even though, in reality, it is not.
Thus, imagining or reliving a sad event can strengthen the neuronal connections that hold both the factual parts of the memory and the emotional parts of the memory, making it burrow even deeper into your brain. However, thinking about past happy events, or envisioning desired happy events, can make your brain respond as if a happy event is actually occurring. This means thinking happy, positive thoughts and using guided imagery, for example, could strengthen pathways for happiness and serenity. There really is some truth to the adage: You are what you think.
Positive thinking can create a brain blessed with predominantly “positive” neuronal pathways, which would make you more likely to associate even every day, ordinary events with thoughts that make you feel happier. You can begin by cultivating empathy, gratitude, and positive thinking about your present, past, or future life. Even focusing on happiness for a few minutes a day can boost your happiness potential.
You can also re-frame past events to create a more desirable emotional subtext. Reducing negative attachments to painful memories, and focusing on framing the events in a way that allows you think and feel happier will literally create neuronal pathways that your brain can follow when processing new experiences. If you put a lot of energy in visualizing how you want relationships to happen, your brain will do its part to help make that happen.
It’s really pretty remarkable and not esoteric at all. By understanding how your brain works, and utilizing techniques that take advantage of this understanding, you can maximize opportunities to create the types of experiences and memories that foster happiness. And who doesn’t want that?
Our hope for the book was that our readers would be as excited as we were to realize that we really can train our brains to be happier. You have the ability to use your mind to make your life happier, and more focused, and more fulfilling.
***Train Your Brain To Get Happy authors currently blog on the Psychology Today website under “Prime Your Gray Cells” and will have a follow-up book entitled Train Your Brain to Get Rich, in November!