4 Habits of Happy People
Alex Korb, a neuroscience researcher at UCLA has found that certain emotions and behaviors stimulate centers in the brain and body causing increased happiness.
Gratitude can be an antidepressant. Feeling grateful can activate the brain stem region that produces dopamine. Pharmaceutical antidepressants, like Wellbutrin, are used to boost the neurotransmitter dopamine.
Gratitude also stimulates the neurotransmitter serotonin, the body’s natural antidepressant. Gratitude and boom, surge of serotonin in the anterior cingulated cortex, according to Korb. Coming up with “ideas” of what you’re grateful for helps you to focus on the positives in your life. So express that gratitude to your peeps, dogs and others you care about in your life. If nothing comes to mind, no worries, even the act of “searching” for what you’re grateful for seems to stimulate the release of serotonin.
Label Your Feelings
Sad, anxious, fearful, frustrated, overwhelmed? Put those feelings into words and it actually lessens their impact. MRI studies showed reduced amygdala reactivity after subjects put their emotional feelings into words. When the participants simply “viewed” pictures of people with emotional facial expressions their amygdala was activated. As they named the specific emotion, consciously recognizing the feeling in just a word or two, the impact was lessened. Use your words!
Calling all Libras, you indecisive souls, listen up - make a decision already and stop waffling! Making decisions, even “good enough” decisions reduces worry and anxiety. Making decisions can also include setting goals and creating intensions. Both serve to engage the prefrontal cortex in a positive way and have a calming effect on the limbic system. The limbic system is responsible for emotions like fear, anger and pleasure. When you make a decision, your brain often feels a sense of “control” which in turn reduces stress.
Touch can be tremendously powerful and ups the happiness quotient. In the immortal words of Diana Ross, “Reach out and touch somebody’s hand, make this world a better place, if you can”. Not only will it be a better place, but it will be a happier place.
Caveat: Touch only those who have given their consent.
Touch releases “oxytocin”, a hormone that is made in the brain. It has been called the love hormone and the cuddle chemical. A hug, handshake, even a pat on the back can release oxytocin. If you find yourself all alone, no worries, go get a massage!
As people age they often seem to get touched less. Especially, if they have lost their spouse, close friends or are living in a nursing or assisted facility. Many of these facilities today are encouraging their staff to hold resident’s hands and offer gentle caresses. Residents in assisted facilities with cognitive issues who then experienced a combination of massage, yoga and physical interactions with therapy pets slept better and had an array of behavioral improvements. Touch can lower the level of the stress hormone, cortisol as well as increasing oxytocin.
So don’t be stingy with those hugs and make them long ones. Label those feelings, be decisive and show gratitude frequently throughout the day. Then stop and notice how this effects you and those around you. Happiness can be contagious!