The amount of happiness research travelling the web these days can be incredibly overwhelming. And, if you’re anything like me, you might sometimes get caught into a crazy spiral of analysis paralysis.
You read some “tip” related to someone’s personal experience, then it doesn’t work for you, so you read more “tips,” and then the entire cycle repeats itself. It can just be downright exhausting!
So I decided to go to the experts… neuroscientists. The ones who actually study our brains and know, scientifically, what works and what doesn’t.
So let’s dive in…
5 Simple Rituals that Will Build Your Happiness
Just Make the Da** Decision
This is one that I’ve lately been struggling with on a regular basis, because I’m constantly evaluating and re-evaluating decisions to make sure that I best possible decision that won’t hurt me in the long run.
But neuroscientists say that this is actually hurting my happiness levels. In the book The Upward Spiral by neuroscientist Alex Korb he references the fact that creating intentions, setting goals, and making decisions all activate the prefrontal cortex in a positive way, while also reducing anxiety, and calming the limbic system.
So our ritual here is simply to start making decisions that are good enough.
As Korb says, “Trying for the best, instead of good enough, brings too much emotional ventromedial prefrontal activity into the decision-making process. In contrast, recognizing that good enough is good enough activates more dorsolateral prefrontal areas, which helps you feel more in control…”
New ritual: Make the best possible decision you can at the time using all of the information you have to up your levels of happiness.
And, let’s be honest, we should just be comfortable that it will all get figured out in the end either way.
Plan an Expected Reward
When I recently started training for some of the events I have coming up in Aspen, I really struggled to get my feet out the door. With the tough summer I had, I took a solid two months off of working out and sloooowly moved back into working out in month three. But when I learned that I only had until December to train and get back in gear, I knew something had to change.
Enter my seemingly silly reward system… that’s working! Simply said, I have two “rewards” lined up – one that I’ll talk about on the blog once I get there and one that I’m keeping private. Both have been placed at specific points on the calendar and will only stay there if I keep with my current training schedule. If I miss a day, then my “reward” gets pushed back, too
And here’s why it works… according to neurochemist Laura Breuning, in her book Habits of a Happy Brain, taking a step towards an expected reward pumps up our levels of dopamine. This nifty, little neurotransmitter determines our levels of alertness, learning, creativity, satisfaction, attention, and concentration. So when we boost our dopamine levels by moving towards an expected reward, we automatically make ourselves happier!
New ritual: Put an expected reward on the calendar and take a small step to work towards it every day.
Be Open About Your Problems
This simple ritual will vary by person, with some confiding in a best friend and some feeling like airing their grievances publically on facebook is the right way to go. Whatever method works best for you, I don’t really care. But here’s why being open about your problems in whatever way you know how makes a difference.
When we’re open and honest about the issues we’re facing, yes, it does cause some discomfort. Heck, if you’re dealing with triggers and some really intense feelings like I am right now, you might even really hate talking about your problems. But it’s what happens on the other end that makes the difference.
According to psychotherapist Barton Goldsmith, talking about our problems openly gives your pain a voice and actually triggers the release of serotonin. Serotonin is our “feel good” neurotransmitter that monitors our mood, prevents against depression, and is the precursor to melatonin, which helps us sleep.
So when we share our problems openly, we’re lifting a weight off of our shoulders, allowing ourselves to go through the process of moving on and letting ourselves no longer be defined by the issues facing our lives.
New ritual: What’s weighing on your shoulders? Come up with someone that you can talk to to lighten your load.
Remind Yourself that You Have Some Control Over Your Mind
Part of the problem with “getting in touch with our emotions” are that we sometimes forget that we are actually in control of a good portion of our decisions and way of thinking. (And I know I’m part of the problem here, too!)
But in her book The How of Happiness, Sonja Lyubomirsky shared that we are actually in charge of 40% of our feelings of happiness.
Interestingly, we all have a genetic set point for happiness, which is where about 50% of our happiness comes from, and 10% of our happiness is determined by our life circumstances and behaviors – which one could argue are also partially in our control, as well.
With this in mind the ritual that I’ve decided to add into my day is to make a conscious effort every single morning to choose to be happy. I think through some elements that will make me extremely happy today. Is there someone I need to call? Do I just need some alone time with a warm bath and a good book? Is a good workout calling my name? Then I try my best to fit that activity into my day at some point.
New ritual: It’s up to you to choose to be happy…so do it!
While this is the only stat not from a Ph. D, it’s definitely statistically significant.
The Gallup-Healthways Happiness-Stress Index found a very direct correlation between socializing and happiness. Specifically, people who spend around 1/4 of their day (6-7 hours) socializing with family and friends, either digitally or in person, are 12 TIMES as likely to report that they are joyful rather than feeling stressed or anxious.
While I do believe that the number of hours likely varies a bit by person, the correlation is unmistakable.
New ritual: Make it a point to intentionally socialize with friends and family. Because I picked them for a reason and they make life incredible.
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Create a great life!