Can you train your brain for happiness? We are living in an era in which the so-called “happiness industry” seems to want to convince us through an infinite series of publications that the much sought-after well-being is always at hand.
It would seem enough to implement a series of strategies in this regard, but is it really that easy? Is there really a simple formula to breathe happier air and feel more optimistic?
The answer is no”. As for change, in this work of creation which is progress towards psychological well-being and authentic fullness, there is nothing quick or easy.
First, we need to know that the brain does not care whether we are happy or not. In fact, what really matters for this organ is to survive. For this reason, it gives more weight to the fears and mechanisms that place us in the comfort zone.
Having an organ resistant to change, however, does not mean that it cannot learn. Our species has evolved, showing remarkable signs of adaptation to the most complex contexts. At the same time, we know well from clinical practice that changes for greater balance and healing are possible, but there is a need for real (and active) effort on the part of the individual. Let’s find out more below.
Can we train the brain for happiness?
Training your brain for happiness does not mean improving your diet. It doesn’t even depend on a more active life, physical activity, or taking a trip every two or three months. These dimensions can obviously make us healthier, give us some momentary pleasure and a certain satisfaction, which can last for hours, if not days.
Yet none of these strategies will help us fight stress. When life gets complicated, we will continue to not know how to make it easier and still live with the sense of helplessness, fear and anxiety.
As the psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalvi indicates, to achieve a happy life you do not need easy recipes, nor do you need to copy the advice of others. It is an individual path, in which everyone must invest their energies proving themselves creative, original.
Yet, yes, there are some very elementary realities that we can take as a starting point for reflection. We present them below.
Train your brain and your thoughts for reflection, flexibility and realistic optimism
One aspect that neuroscience has long pointed out is that thoughts are the mere product of brain activity. The brain creates them as a result of a series of electrical circuits.
But we have certainly known for some time that thoughts have power over our brains: they can give rise to new connections and even shape them.
- An example is given by repeated negative and obsessive thoughts, which slow down brain coordination, stress it and even slow down the activity of the prefrontal area of the brain. All this makes it very difficult to find solutions to problems.
- A strategy through which training the brain for happiness forces us to have more control over these mental mechanisms. Taking care of what we think is a way to keep ourselves healthy.
- Everything we think and say has weight. Consequently, one must try to identify the so-called negative thought patterns and block them.
- It is not even a question of changing course and making an “empty” use of a thought, with excessive confidence. It is simply a matter of applying a more thoughtful and less rigid approach to this reality. Being able to sift through ten possible solutions to a problem, broaden perspectives, and stop predicting tragedies in our immediate future.
Having a goal every day, giving meaning to our life
What is a life without goals? Translated to the brain is a lack of dopamine, serotonin, that well-being that is in tune with enthusiasm and daily goals. If our reality has no meaning or reason, we too are worthless.
This state leaves us suspended in an abysmal void, the one that has always encouraged emotional disturbances, such as anxiety or depression. As Viktor Frankl once said, nothing makes us stronger than having a goal, remembering what matters to us and why it is worth moving forward.
Precisely for this reason, if we want to train our brain for happiness we must have a clear idea of our life goal, but not only. In reality, each of us today should have a goal, a goal to reach, even if it is something as simple as “rest a bit, see a friend, read a book, take a walk …”.
Happiness is being comfortable with yourself: the power of self-esteem
Nobody can be happy every day. It is impossible, in fact, to grasp and block this mental state at any time, from an emotional and attitudinal point of view. There is actually a much more important aspect of being happy: being comfortable with yourself. Lack of self-esteem continues to be an unfinished business for many people today.
This element is essential to stimulate well-being and undoubtedly represents the rosetta stone of satisfaction and that dimension that we should take care of every day. John Rawls, one of the most well-known philosophers of the twentieth century, used to say that any society that aspires to be happy should have citizens who are self-respecting enough.
He defined this dimension as that confidence in ourselves to achieve what we desire, to value us as human beings and to ensure progress and well-being. The opposite of self-respect would be, according to Rawls, impotence.
Finally, to the question of whether or not it is possible to train the brain for happiness, the answer is yes; however, it is not an easy task. It consists of a daily work, a considerable, complex and courageous effort, in which to invest every day. Why not get started today?