With the online rise of self-help gurus, wellness bloggers and pseudo psychologists, the Internet is practically crawling with conflicting concepts about what makes us happy. A concept as sought-after as it is elusive, the pursuit of happiness has become one of the most prevalent by-products of human existence. But with most available advice being unsolicited, unfounded and untrue, how can we know what to believe about keeping our heads happy? Thankfully, neuroscience – the scientific study of the structure and function of the nervous system and brain – has found that the pursuit of happiness need not be a pursuit at all. In fact, it may be directly within our cognitive control. Here are four rituals proven by neuroscience to make you happy.
Ritual 1: Practise Gratitude
As neuroscience has consistently proven, the human brain is multifaceted and incredibly complex. As a result, we can often transition into negative emotional patterns without knowing how or why. Negative thoughts such as pride, shame and guilt all trigger similar circuits in the brain, and strangely, also activate our brain’s reward centre.
According to neuroscience, negative emotions such as pride, shame or worry, serve our coping mechanisms for anxiety, as even the subconscious progression of these negative thought patterns feels more proactive than remaining idle in our anxious thoughts.
However, gratitude has been proven to counteract this. Regularly practising gratitude has been found to have a profound effect on our brain by activating positive thought patterns, in turn increasing dopamine and serotonin – the brain chemicals responsible for making us happy.
Ritual 2: Spend Time With Others
In a world where we are overworked, overstressed and over-pressed for time, it can be easy to isolate yourself. But whether you label yourself as an introvert, extrovert or ambivert, all humans are inherently social beings that long to belong. While it seems obvious that everyone just wants to be loved and accepted, neuroscience has found that isolation and lack of socialisation has a detrimental effect on our brains. In fact, the human brain interprets social isolation and exclusion in the same way it interprets physical pain.
But this can be easily cured with a healthy dose of human contact. While social gatherings and conversation can lift our spirits, the human touch and emotional connections are scientifically proven to make us happy.
Ritual 3: Accomplish Your Goals
Whether they be big or small, simply setting and achieving goals has been proven to have a profound effect on our happiness. Feeling relieved, accomplished, fulfilled, selfless and determined, are all found to have a positive affect on our brains.
Dr. Alex Korb, a renowned neuroscience expert, explains:
“Making decisions includes creating intentions and setting goals – all three are part of the same neuro circuitry and engage the prefrontal cortex in a positive way, reducing worry and anxiety.”
While sitting comfortably in our indecisiveness can seem like the easy way out, coming to a decision that doesn’t require too much thought, or making a good decision rather than worrying about not making the right one, has a much more positive effect on our brain health. This is because making decisions helps us to feel in control of our thoughts and emotions, which, in turn, makes us happy.
Ritual 4: Acknowledge Negative Thoughts
Simply being able to acknowledge negative thoughts or thought patterns can be a huge step toward the pursuit of happiness. Pinpointing a negative thought or emotion can help us to accurately identify the cause of an issue, allowing us to begin accepting/fixing it. Labelling our emotions helps us take control of them. Simply acknowledging our negative thoughts and admitting that something is proven to activate the reward centre of our brains, produces a sense of accomplishment and makes us happy.