There have been several scientific studies on how to improve mood and feelings of happiness. Neuroscientists, in particular, have attempted to get a deeper understanding of what causes happiness.
Not everyone is born happy, but neuroscience says we can all learn how to bring more happiness and meaning into our lives.
Here are 4 rituals you can follow to create genuine happiness in your life.
1) Exercise Gratitude
Every time you feel low, you need to ask yourself this question.
“What am I grateful for?”
According to neuroscience, gratitude affects us at a biological level. In other words, gratitude boosts neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin, the happy chemicals in our brain.
Feeling grateful activates the brain stem region that produces dopamine and thinking of things you’re grateful for forces you to focus on the positive aspects of your life, increasing serotonin production in the anterior cingulate cortex.
How do you express gratitude? Try the ancient method of mindfulness.
Loving-kindness meditation aka metta meditation as a technique to express gratitude for things you’re grateful for in your life.
Learn everything about loving-kindness meditation in this post here.
2) Label Negative Feelings
You’re having a bad day and you’re feeling absolutely dreadful. Give this terrible feeling a name. Angry? Sad? Anxious? Don’t try to suppress your emotions, just label it as such and move on.
Just doing this simple act can reduce the impact of the negative feeling. There is solid research to back this up.
In a study titled Putting Feelings into Words, participants viewed pictures of people with emotional facial expressions. Predictably, each participant’s amygdala activated to the emotions in the picture. But when they were asked to name the emotion, the ventrolateral prefrontal cortex activated and reduced the emotional amygdala reactivity. In other words, consciously recognizing the emotions reduced their impact.
Once again, this is where mindfulness meditation can help you. Labeling negative emotions is one of the fundamental principles of mindfulness.
To learn how to make meditation a daily habit, read this post.
3) Make That Decision
Neuroscience shows that making decisions reduces worry and anxiety and helps you solve problems. When you make a decision, your brain feels you have more control and this feeling of control reduces stress and anxiety.
According to brain studies, making a decision also gives you a pleasure boost.
For instance, if you are going to the gym just because you have to, it’s not really a voluntary decision. Your brain doesn’t get the pleasure boost and may even feel stress. But if you decide to go to the gym and actively choose to do your workouts, your brain gets a dopamine boost and you’ll feel happy.
Related: 5 Powerful Ways to Kickstart Your Day (According to Science)
4) Hug Someone
The quality of your relationships plays a big role in keeping you happy.
This is what UCLA neuroscience researcher Alex Korb Ph.D. has to say in his groundbreaking book, The Upward Spiral: Using Neuroscience to Reverse the Course of Depression, One Small Change at a Time.
“A hug, especially a long one, releases a neurotransmitter and hormone oxytocin, which reduces the reactivity of the amygdale. The amygdala is the integrative center in the brain that plays a key role in processing our emotions, emotional behavior and motivation.”
So in order to boost your happiness, spend more time with your friends and family.
Related: How to Avoid Distraction: 4 Secrets to Achieving Focus
Here’s what neuroscience says will make you happy:
- Express gratitude. Ask “What am I grateful for?”
- Label negative feelings. Give your negative feeling a name so that your brain isn’t bothered by it anymore.
- Make a decision. When you make a decision, your brain feels you have more control.
- Hug someone. Improve the quality of your relationships. Spend more time with friends and family.
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