Rewire Your Brain for Happiness

In the iconic ‘80s movie, “Field of Dreams”, Kevin Costner’s character begins an epic adventure after hearing a ghostly voice whispering from his cornfield. It says several different things, but the most famous of them is, “If you build it, they will come.”

Now, those of us who have seen the film know what the “it” in question is, but the point I need to make here is that the phrase itself – if you build it, they will come – has a lot of meaning apart from the film. Our minds, for example, can build all kinds of things that lead us down different pathways. Our minds can tell us something, and we run with it, making it reality.

“Oh boy, I really, really am going to drop this…” and so, it falls to the ground.

“Ugh, my workday is going to be so miserable tomorrow…” and so you head in with a frown and make that anticipated misery a reality.

In both instances, you have “built it”, and so it has come. However, the power of negative thinking can be overruled and overcome by positivity. Known as “brain plasticity”, we humans are fortunate enough to think our ways out of a lot of troubling situations.

Happiness is...

The brain’s plasticity is an infinitely precious quality that we can harness to move from habitual negative feelings states, including depression, anxiety, and PTSD – to an expanded experience of emotional wellbeing and happiness in our daily lives. Deepak Chopra

This quote does tell us something that we might miss, and that is that a negative state can be a habit. As proof of this, just think of something that triggers an immediate sense of anger. It can be traffic jams, grocery shopping, or any other event that shouldn’t automatically induce any sense of authentic anger. However, you may have had one lousy experience in traffic or at the store, and so you say to yourself, “Ugh, I have to do that again.”

You have reinforced the response you have to the stimulus, but it is not a unique reaction, it is habit. We do this to ourselves in so many ways, and yet we always have it in our reach to direct our thoughts or energies toward more positive reactions. The anger at having to trudge through the grocery store, heave the groceries into the car, into your home, put them away, and tidy up can start to be reversed by instead giving attention to the positive aspects. You have food available. You have money for it. There is so much variety that it takes a huge space to contain it. You have a vehicle and a home. You have people or pets to feed, and so on. This simple conversion of anger into gratitude can be repeated until you have rewired your happiness response.

Practicing Happiness

Let’s not get ahead of ourselves with this, though, because it takes consistent effort and work. If you have developed a habit that is the opposite of happiness, like sadness, anger, or easy frustration, it will require constructing new neural pathways, and this can be tough.

A report in Forbes Magazine explained that a simple meditation to use as a physical cue to channels is an excellent way to begin the process.

Chopra is an advocate of the “So Hum” meditation. This can be done in two minutes, and it requires that you take a moment to note your breathing, and then using only the nose, you breathe in thinking the word “so” and then exhale, slowly, thinking the word “hum”. You use them as a focal point to enjoy a few moments of focused breathing. You can do this for just a few breaths if that is all of the time available, and then realign your thoughts to the positive.

“I was an absolute, road raging nightmare,” a colleague of mine noted, “And then I read about gratitude and happiness studies. I started to use it as soon as I got in the car.” Her method was to pay attention to her emotional state, and as soon as she felt frustrated to use some deep breathing and then cue herself to think compassionately about the other drivers, the many families and lives around her, and the need to be gentle with herself and those around her.

“It took a while for me to train myself to feel content in the car,” she said with a smile, “But once I learned that I could actually tell myself to feel something better and different about the experience, and did the work, it has done wonders.”

Five minutes of meditation and cultivating gratitude or positivity are simple steps that effectively rewire your mind towards happiness. Today is definitely the day to get started on a happier life.