I was conducting “Internet research” and ran across a very interesting article regarding what makes people happy. It appears that neuroscience has conducted research and found that you can make yourself happy by implementing four rituals. Studies conducted at UCLA found that these four simple rituals will place you in an upward spiral of happiness.
Since it is in my nature, I researched the word ritual to ensure that I understood exactly what that is. I found that, per Wikipedia, a ritual is a sequence of activities involving gestures, words, and objects performed in a sequestered place and performed according to a set sequence. Rituals are repetitive behaviors. They may be triggered by tradition, religion or even an emotional event. It is the emotional event that we are interested in here. The emotion we are pursuing is unhappiness.
It seems that even though they are different pride, shame, and guilt all activate similar circuits in our brains. It can be appealing to feel guilt and shame because they activate the brain’s reward center. Worry also makes the brain feel better since you are at least doing something about your problems. Worry even helps to calm the limbic system by increasing the activity in the thinking brain.
So when we are unhappy, what can we do to make sure that we extricate ourselves from the downward spiral and begin an upward spiral toward happiness? Ask yourself, “What am I grateful for?”
Happiness Ritual 1 – Gratitude
Gratitude works on the brain at the biological level. Gratitude boosts dopamine as does the antidepressant Wellbutrin. Gratitude also boosts the neurotransmitter serotonin as does Prozac. Even if you can’t find something to be grateful for, don’t worry. It is the process of searching for something that provides the benefits. If you can’t find something, be grateful for this article and me.
Happiness Ritual 2 – Labeling
OK, so what do you do when you are really down and the bad feelings overtake you? It seems that trying not to feel something doesn’t work, it may even backfire and cause worse feelings. Research indicates that labeling the negative feeling will get your thinking brain involved and reduce the amygdala involvement thereby reducing the impact of the emotion. The amygdala is the center of emotion and will quiet down once the thinking brain begins to get involved.
Happiness Ritual 3 – Decision
Brain science shows that making decisions reduces worry and anxiety and may actually help you solve problems. Making decisions involves the thinking brain and again calms the limbic system where the amygdala resides. “But decisions are hard work,” you say. Then, don’t make the absolute best decision. Make a “good enough” decision. Trying to make perfect decisions overwhelm the brain with emotions that will make you feel out of control. Realize that “Good enough is almost always good enough.”
Studies indicate that you get a shot of dopamine, the feel-good stuff, when you make a decision on a goal and then achieve it. You will feel better than if something good happened by chance. We don’t just choose the things we like, we like the things we choose.
Happiness Ritual 4 – Touch People
Yep, touch other people, not indiscriminately, of course. Handshakes and pats on the back will do, although a long hug will go much further. Relationships are important for the brain’s feeling of happiness. I have always said that we are in a relationships business.
The Happiness Ritual comprises finding something to be grateful for, labeling the negative emotions, deciding on good enough and touching others.
So … I am grateful for the opportunity to write this column. The label for the emotion while writing it is: stressful. I will accept it as is which is good enough. And, I am going to go hug Ruth right now. I like Ritual 4 the best.
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