Richard Davidson, founder of the Center for Healthy Minds at the University of Wisconsin and author of The Emotional Life of Your Brain, says happiness isn't a gift from the universe, it's a skill (and one you can learn).
There are four components of increased mental well-being, all of which correspond to particular, measurable functions of the brain. Work out these skills and your brain changes, studies show, and as your brain changes, you get better at being happy.
"Resilience is the rapidity with which you recover from adversity," explains Davidson. It can be measured by looking at how long it takes certain neural circuits to come back to baseline after something upsetting happens. Developing resilience is extremely difficult, and it take specific skills and practice.
To develop resilience:
¨ Create a sense of purpose for your life
¨ Believe in yourself and your abilities
¨ Develop a strong social network
¨ Embrace change
¨ Be optimistic about the future
¨ Nurture your body and mind with healthy habits
¨ Develop yourself through reading, education and training
¨ Develop problem solving skills
¨ Understand that you have the power to make choices that will affect your situation
¨ Establish goals
¨ Take steps toward accomplishing goals
¨ Ask for help
¨ Embrace a survivor mentality (not a victim)
¨ Focus on the present (not the past or the future)
2. Positive Outlook
This skill is "the ability to see the positive in others, the ability to savor positive experiences," and again, there is circuitry in the brain that underlies this quality. Practicing compassion can have an effect on the brain relatively quickly and with just a little effort.
"A wandering mind is an unhappy mind," says Davidson, paraphrasing the research on the subject. Research has found that 47 percent of an adult's waking life is spent not paying attention to what they're doing, and these frequent distractions affect their well-being.
"There are now a plethora of data showing that when individuals engage in generous and altruistic behavior, they actually activate circuits in the brain that are key to fostering well-being," says Davidson. In short, simple acts of kindness won't just make others happier, they will make you happier, too.
To increase your happiness, try these techniques:
¨ Three daily positives - everyday, write down three positive things about your day
¨ Give a shout out - praise another person for something they have done
¨ Mindfulness - stay attuned with your feelings and what causes them, try not to focus on negative feelings
¨ Good deeds - do something nice for another person
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The Scott Loper Team
Scott & Lisa Loper