Three Quick, Easy Happiness Hacks

Happiness is a work ethic . . . . It’s something that requires our brains to train just like an athlete has to train.”

                                           Shawn Achor, Author of, “The Happiness Advantage”

In the previous post on ‘Mental Wealth” we saw how we could use the Tetris Effect to change our brains.  So let’s talk about ‘Happiness hacks’ that can rewire your brain for more happiness. Happiness can be learned the same way we learn anything else.  Through repetition. Think of it as a foreign language, or as physical skill, as Achor suggested in the quote above.  How do you learn a language or skill?  Through repetition and practice. So how do we learn happiness? Let’s start with three happiness hacks..  Simple ways.  Easy ways….to increase your happiness.

gratitude is a happiness hack

Showing gratitude is a ‘Happiness Hack’

Gratitude: There are at least 26 benefits to gratitude. Quite a number of studies show that increasing happiness is among them. At the beginning or end of each day….every day… write down three things you are grateful for.  They don’t have to be big, earth-shattering events.  Simple joys will do.  Did you have an especially good cup of coffee? Notice the shape of a flock of birds against the sky? Have a fun interchange with your child? The important thing is that you write them down. You can keep them in a note on your phone, or in a notebook you keep for that purpose. Or there’s an app for that, whether you have an iPhone or Android.  Another important point is to try to have unique entries each day…using the same ones over and over is cheating, because part of the skill is noticing new things you are grateful for.

kind words for someone else is a happiness hack for you

Kind words for someone else is a happiness hack for you

Random Acts of Kindness: The science of kindness is amazing.  Studies show that acts of kindness benefit both the receiver, the doer, and those observing! When you perform an act of altruism, or kindness, the levels of serotonin rise in your brain (and in the brain of the recipient, and in the brains of anyone observing!). Serotonin is neurotransmitter… a chemical in your brain…that causes feelings of calm, and reduces anxiety.  Many antidepressant medications work by increasing levels of serotonin, and this is a way of increasing that level naturally. Additional studies have shown that kindness is also contagious. People who observe acts of kindness are more likely to perform them in the future.  So spread the kindness…that’s something else to feel good about!  “A little kindness from person to person is better than a vast love for all humankind.” – Richard Dehmel, poet and playwright (1863-1920Smile: A 2009 study that measured brain activity while smiling concluded that it activated the part of our brain that processes feelings of happiness.  Just the using the facial muscles to produce the smile is all it takes.  You don’t have to be happy. We all know that happiness can produce a smile.  It’s awesome that it also works the other way around. Another study concluded that one smile produced the same amount of brain stimulation as 2000 chocolate bars!   And like the Acts of Kindness discussed above, it is contagious.  Researchers found that people observing a smile were less able to produce a frown.  Again….spread joy to yourself and others.  By smiling!

There they are…3 of the quickest and easiest happiness hacks…ways to rewire your brain to increase happiness.  The hard part is not doing them.  It’s doing them...over…and over…and over.  Because remember, repetition is the key to rewiring your brain.

 

Mental Wealth: Are your investments all in your head?

 

word cloud of happiness terms

Happiness can be learned…it is your ‘Mental Wealth’

That’s not a typo…I DO mean ‘Mental Wealth’, not ‘Mental Health’. ‘Wealth’ evokes images of abundance. It’s a ‘happy’ word no matter how you look at it. ‘Health’, on the other hand, can go either way.  You’ll see why that’s important by the end of this article.

Look around. Do you know people who seem to be upbeat, and ‘bad days’ are only minor speed bumps on their life road? But others have a bad day and it puts them into a ditch? Have you ever wondered what the difference is?  I sure have. It turns out some people have to work harder than others to experience ‘happiness’.

Sonja Lyubomirsky, PhD, a professor at the University of California, has studied the ‘Science of Happiness’ since 2001. Results of her multiple studies indicate that 50% of happiness is genetic, 10% is life circumstances, and 40% is within our power to change. This explains why improving life circumstances, like increasing income or changing appearance, does not make people sustainably happier.  That’s only 10% of the picture. And as of right now, we can’t change our genetics. That leaves us 40% to work with to impact our happiness. No problem.

Except there IS a problem.  We are hardwired to focus on the negative.  It is an adaptive, self-protective characteristic. As hunter-gatherers we needed to constantly scan our environment to pick out threats. We are rewarded for focusing on the negative. Noticing that giant predatory kangaroo meant we stayed alive. This easily turns into a negative feedback loop. The good news is that by understanding how the brain fashions connections we can break out of the negativity loop and fashion durable positive thinking patterns. We can harness the power of the Tetris Effect.

Use the Tetris Effect to increase happpiness

The Tetris Effect is named after the game

The Tetris Effect, named after the computer game where players manipulate falling cubes, illuminates what happens when we learn. MRI imaging of subjects who played the game for 1.5 hours a week over a period of three months showed increased thickness in their gray matter, and improved function in visual-spatial skills.  Amazingly, the amount of energy used in their brains while playing the game DECREASED from the beginning to the end of the study.  In other words, as their brains mastered the task, they became more efficient. The more you do something, the less ‘brain power’ it takes to accomplish the task.

The ability of the brain to rewire itself is called, ‘plasticity’, and we can use this ability to break the negative thinking cycle and develop new positive pathways.  New pathways are created by practicing positive thinking. Using that pathway over and over it causes it to become automatic.  You will begin to see the world in a newer, more positive way.  This is called, ‘Acquired Optimism.’

And that’s why the term ‘Mental Wealth’ is important.  The words we choose are one way we wire our brain for positivity, and ultimately, happiness. There are many others, techniques I call, ‘Happiness Hacks’. Stay tuned for what they are and how to implement them.