Epilepsy Talk

New Neuroscience Reveals 3 Rituals That Will Make You Happy… | August 9, 2021

UCLA neuroscience researcher Alex Korb has some insights that can create an upward spiral of happiness in your life.

Here’s what you and I can learn from the people who really have answers:

The Most Important Questions to Ask When You Feel Down

Sometimes it doesn’t feel like your brain wants you to be happy. You may feel guilty or shameful. Why?

Believe it or not, guilt and shame activate the brain’s reward center.

Despite their differences, pride, shame, and guilt all activate similar neural circuits, including the dorsomedial prefrontal cortex, amygdala, insula, and the nucleus accumbens.

Interestingly, pride is the most powerful of these emotions at triggering activity in these regions — except in the nucleus accumbens, where guilt and shame win out.

This explains why it can be so appealing to heap guilt and shame on ourselves — they’re activating the brain’s reward center.

And you worry a lot too. Why? In the short term, worrying makes your brain feel a little better — at least you’re doing something about your problems.

In fact, worrying can help calm the limbic system by increasing activity in the medial prefrontal cortex and decreasing activity in the amygdala.

That might seem counterintuitive, but it just goes to show that if you’re feeling anxiety, doing something about it — even worrying — is better than doing nothing.

But guilt, shame and worry are horrible long-term solutions. So what do neuroscientists say you should do? Ask yourself this question:

1) What am I grateful for?

Yeah, your gratitude is awesome… but does it really affect your brain at the biological level? Yup.

You know what the antidepressant Wellbutrin does? Boosts the neurotransmitter dopamine.

So does gratitude.

The benefits of gratitude start with the dopamine system, because feeling grateful activates the brain stem region that produces dopamine.

Additionally, gratitude toward others increases activity in social dopamine circuits, which makes social interactions more enjoyable…

Know what Prozac does? Boosts the neurotransmitter serotonin.

So does gratitude.

One powerful effect of gratitude is that it can boost serotonin.

Trying to think of things you are grateful for forces you to focus on the positive aspects of your life.

This simple act increases serotonin production in the anterior cingulate cortex.

I know, sometimes life lands a really mean punch in the gut and it feels like there’s nothing to be grateful for.

Guess what?

It doesn’t matter. You don’t have to find anything. It’s the searching that counts.

It’s not finding gratitude that matters most; it’s remembering to look in the first place.

Remembering to be grateful is a form of emotional intelligence.

One study found that it actually affected neuron density in both the ventromedial and lateral prefrontal cortex.

These density changes suggest that as emotional intelligence increases, the neurons in these areas become more efficient.

With higher emotional intelligence, it simply takes less effort to be grateful.

And gratitude doesn’t just make your brain happy — it can also create a positive feedback in your relationships.

So express that gratitude to the people you care about.

2) Label negative feelings

You feel awful. Okay, give that awfulness a name. Sad? Anxious? Angry?

Boom. It’s that simple. Sound stupid? Your noggin disagrees.

In one fMRI study, appropriately 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.

Suppressing emotions doesn’t work and can backfire on you.

A study found that people who tried to suppress a negative emotional experience failed to do so.

While they thought they looked fine outwardly, inwardly their limbic system was just as aroused as without suppression, and in some cases, even more aroused.

Kevin Ochsner, at Columbia, repeated these findings using an fMRI.

Trying not to feel something doesn’t work, and in some cases even backfires.

But labeling, on the other hand, makes a big difference.

Strategies For Overcoming Distraction, Regaining Focus, and Working Smarter All Day Long: 

To reduce arousal, you need to use just a few words to describe an emotion, and ideally use symbolic language.

Which means using indirect metaphors, metrics, and simplifications of your experience.

This requires you to activate your prefrontal cortex, which reduces the arousal in the limbic system.

Here’s the bottom line: describe an emotion in just a word or two, and it helps reduce the emotion.

Ancient methods were way ahead of us on this one.

Mediation has employed this for centuries. Labeling is a fundamental tool of mindfulness.

In fact, labeling affects the brain so powerfully it works with other people too.

Labeling emotions is one of the primary tools used by FBI hostage negotiators.

Okay, hopefully you’re not reading this and labeling your current emotional state as “Bored.”

Maybe you’re not feeling awful but you probably have things going on in your life that are causing you some stress.

Here’s a simple way to beat them…

3) Make That Decision

Ever make a decision and then your brain finally feels at rest? That’s no random occurrence.

Brain science shows that making decisions reduces worry and anxiety — as well as helping you solve problems.

Making decisions includes creating intentions and setting goals — all three are part of the same neural circuitry and engage the prefrontal cortex in a positive way, reducing worry and anxiety.

Making decisions also helps overcome striatum activity, which usually pulls you toward negative impulses and routines.

Finally, making decisions changes your perception of the world — finding solutions to your problems and calming the limbic system.

But deciding can be hard. I agree. So what kind of decisions should you make?

Neuroscience has an answer…

Make a “good enough” decision. Don’t sweat making the absolute 100% best decision.

We all know being a perfectionist can be stressful. And brain studies back this up.

Trying to be perfect overwhelms your brain with emotions and makes you feel out of control.

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.

As Swarthmore professor Barry Schwartz said in an interview with him: “Good enough is almost always good enough.”

So when you make a decision, your brain feels you have control.

And, as I’ve talked about before, a feeling of control reduces stress. But here’s what’s really fascinating: Deciding also boosts pleasure.

Actively choosing caused changes in attention circuits and in how the participants felt about the action, and it increased rewarding dopamine activity.

Want proof? No problem. Let’s talk about cocaine.

You give 2 rats injections of cocaine. Rat A had to pull a lever first.

Rat B didn’t have to do anything. Any difference? Yup: Rat A gets a bigger boost of dopamine.

So they both got the same injections of cocaine at the same time, but rat A had to actively press the lever, and Rat B didn’t have to do anything.

And you guessed it — rat A released more dopamine in its nucleus accumbens.

So what’s the lesson here? Next time you buy cocaine… whoops, wrong lesson.

Point is, when you make a decision on a goal and then achieve it, you feel better than when good stuff just happens by chance.

And this answers the eternal mystery of why dragging your butt to the gym can be so hard.

If you go because you feel you have to or you should, well, it’s not really a voluntary decision.

Your brain doesn’t get the pleasure boost. It just feels stress. And that’s no way to build a good exercise habit.

Interestingly, if they are forced to exercise, they don’t get the same benefits, because without choice, the exercise itself is a source of stress.

So make more decisions.

Neuroscience researcher Alex Korb sumps it up nicely: “We don’t just choose the things we like; we also like the things we choose.”

Okay, you’re being grateful, labeling negative emotions and making more decisions. Great.

But this is feeling kinda lonely for a happiness prescription. Let’s get some other people in here.

What’s something you can do with others that neuroscience says is a path to mucho happiness?

And something that’s stupidly simple so you don’t get lazy and skip it? Brain docs have an answer for you…

The Most Important Question To Ask When You Feel Down

Sometimes it doesn’t feel like your brain wants you to be happy. You may feel guilty or shameful.

Why?

Believe it or not, guilt and shame activate the brain’s reward center.

Okay, I don’t want to strain your brain with too much info.

Let’s round it up and learn the quickest and easiest way to start that upward spiral of neuroscience-inspired happiness…

Sum Up

Here’s what brain research says will make you happy:

Ask “What am I grateful for?” No answers? Doesn’t matter. Just searching helps.

Label those negative emotions. Give it a name and your brain isn’t so bothered by it.

Decide. Go for “good enough” instead of “best decision ever made on Earth.”

So what’s the dead simple way to start that upward spiral of happiness?

Just send someone a thank you email. If you feel awkward about it, you can send them this post to tell them why.

This really can start an upward spiral of happiness in your life.

UCLA neuroscience researcher Alex Korb explains:

“Everything is interconnected.

Gratitude improves sleep.

Sleep reduces pain.

Reduced pain improves your mood.

Improved mood reduces anxiety, which improves focus and planning.

Focus and planning help with decision making.

Decision making further reduces anxiety and improves enjoyment.

Enjoyment gives you more to be grateful for, which keeps that loop of the upward spiral going.

Enjoyment also makes it more likely you’ll exercise and be social, which, in turn, will make you happier.”

So thank you for reading this. And pass it on.

To subscribe to Epilepsy Talk, simply go to the column on the bottom right, enter your email address and click on “Follow”

Resource:  https://www.bakadesuyo.com/2015/09/make-you-happy-2/


6 Comments »

  1. Reblogged this on Ken's Devotions.

    Like

    Comment by Kenneth — August 9, 2021 @ 12:10 PM

  2. Thank you so much for this article. it is very enlightening.

    Liked by 2 people

    Comment by Marianna Zacharatou — August 9, 2021 @ 3:15 PM

    • Besides this problem – to get these articles, I also struggle with anxiety and attempt to lessen the numerous thoughts that consume my mind so I can focus…and it doesn’t always work. So I agree that this is ‘enlightening’ too.

      Liked by 1 person

      Comment by Leon Chavarria — August 9, 2021 @ 3:51 PM

  3. Why do you have a problem getting these articles? If you subscribe, you’ll get each new article as it’s published in your mailbox.

    Liked by 1 person

    Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — August 9, 2021 @ 4:17 PM

  4. Good article Phylis! Dr Alex Korb has written a very helpful book “The Upward Spiral” dealing with sadness, fatigue, sadness and depression. He has also published a related workbook of self help “The Upward Spiral Workbook: A Practical Neuroscience Program for Reversing the Course of Depression” The Kindle version of both books on Amazon costs $10.99 and $14.99 . (And no, I don’t get get anything for making this recommendation!)

    I personally dealt with depression and fatigue initially by mindfulness and then by almost daily fairly intense exercise (up to two hours on a recumbent trike in the Florida heat and humidity.) The pride as my monthly mileage grew from 50 miles to 250 miles was better than any anti-depressant (the exercise induced serotonin and dopamine high helped of course!)
    However, exhaustion can provoke attacks in some people, but in my case it hasn’t… nevertheless, if you decide to take up exercise get pre screened by your physician and start modestly , perhaps 20 minutes at a time, and increase by no more than say 10% weekly. It took me about 3 years to reach my current level. A beneficial side effect by the way is that you loose weight/firm up/improve cardiovascular fitness which is not a bad thing!

    Liked by 2 people

    Comment by Michael H — August 9, 2021 @ 8:06 PM

  5. Wow, Michael you ARE dedicated. Some talk the talk. But you walk the walk!

    Liked by 1 person

    Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — August 9, 2021 @ 10:00 PM


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    About the author

    Phylis Feiner Johnson

    Phylis Feiner Johnson

    I've been a professional copywriter for over 35 years. I also had epilepsy for decades. My mission is advocacy; to increase education, awareness and funding for epilepsy research. Together, we can make a huge difference. If not changing the world, at least helping each other, with wisdom, compassion and sharing.

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