As a UCLA neuroscientist, Alex Korb provides scientifically proven rituals that can transform your life and make you happy.
On the Internet, you'll find tons of "recipes" for happiness. A few pieces of advice are excellent, while others aren't so great. Recent evidence on neuroscience, on the other hand, provides a scientifically proven method for making yourself happy. Happiness is a state of mind. But if you want to be happy – really, truly happy – then there are some rituals you should adopt.
Performing these four simple routines can have a profound impact on your happiness.
One BIG question to ask when you’re feeling sad
It's natural to feel guilty or ashamed about something, but according to neuroscientists at UCLA, these feelings can actually make you happy.
When you engage your brain's reward centre, you're essentially releasing dopamine – a chemical that makes us feel good. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, as long as it doesn't become an addiction.
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 centre. - The Upward Spiral
The most important question to ask yourself when you're feeling down is "How can I make myself happy?"
You have the power to change your feelings, even if it's temporary.
Long-term solutions aren't possible with sentiments of guilt, humiliation, and worry. As a result, we must ask: What are the best options? What am I grateful for? Neuroscientists agree that this is a question we should all ask ourselves.
Alex Korb stated that the key to happiness is "reducing stress."
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.
The way we respond can be an important factor in reducing our overall level of stress. How you view your life or how things happen around you will determine whether your perceived stressful events are good for you or bad for you. The key is to have a positive outlook on life.
It's important to keep an open mind and try new things. This will help you learn more about yourself and the world around you.
You'll also be less likely to get bored with life, which can lead to negative emotions like depression or anxiety. As humans, we're constantly evolving, and trying new things is a great way to accelerate the process.
If you're looking for a new hobby, there are plenty of options out there. You could try painting, hiking, biking, or even dancing!
Expressing gratitude can have a profound impact on your happiness.
The benefits of gratitude start with the dopamine system because feeling grateful activates the brain stem region that creates dopamine. Additionally, appreciation toward others increases activation in social dopamine pathways, which makes social interactions more enjoyable…
In fact, one study showed that people who wrote thank-you letters were 25 percent happier than those who didn't.
Gratitude is a powerful emotion that can make you feel good both mentally and physically. It's also a great way to build relationships with others.
When you express gratitude, you're essentially saying "thank you" to your friends, family, and coworkers. Expressing gratitude is a ritual that will make you feel happy.
Negative emotions should be named and labelled
When you're feeling down, it helps to give those emotions a name, whether it's "sad," "angry," "anxious," or "depressed."
The "Putting Feelings into Words" fMRI study includes participants viewing images of people with emotive facial expressions, and the results were striking. Each participant's amygdala was stimulated in response to the emotions depicted in the image, as was expected. The ventrolateral prefrontal cortex was stimulated and lowered emotional amygdala reactivity when individuals were asked to name an emotion. To put it another way, becoming aware of one's feelings decreased the intensity of those feelings' effects.
Once you put a label on your emotion, no matter how negative it may be, the feeling will then become easier to manage.
For example, I am so frustrated with my boss right now! is not as effective at making you happy as saying "I'm angry." By naming the emotion and putting it into words, we're able to understand how we're feeling, which can help us manage our emotions.
Another important step is to then try to understand the emotion that you feel – and why it's there!
Oftentimes, your brain will give off certain signals when something, in particular, makes you upset, angry, or sad. If a specific thought causes these negative emotions within yourself, it's important to try and understand why that is.
Naming and labelling your emotions can be a great way to get started on managing them, but don't forget the next step: understanding why you're feeling that particular emotion in the first place!
Buffer yourself against stress
We all know how stressful life can be. From work to family to social obligations, it seems like there's always something putting pressure on us.
However, neuroscientists have found a way to buffer ourselves against this stress – and it doesn't involve any expensive gadgets or special treatments!
Simply put, we need to find ways to relax. This could be anything from reading your favourite book to taking a bath to writing a blog post like this one!
How you relax is up to you, and it can depend on your personality. But the important thing is that we all find time in our busy lives to unwind – because stress isn't good for us. Studies have shown that people who manage their stress tend to live longer than those who don't!
So, how do you deal with stress? What's your favourite way to relax?
Decide what you want to do
Making a decision can relieve stress and give us a sense of accomplishment.
Confirmed by neuroscience, decision-making can lower anxiety and help us address our problems more effectively.
Setting goals and intents are part of the same neural circuitry as making decisions, which reduces anxiety and stress. Striatum activity, which tends to drive you into bad impulses and patterns, can be reduced by making decisions and therefore increasing your willpower. Making decisions, in the end, alters your perspective of the world, allowing you to solve difficulties and soothe your limbic system at the same time..
However, if you don't know what you want to do with your life, it's often hard to make decisions about anything else for the rest of your life. So how are decisions made? Well, there is no magic formula for making good choices – but one thing that never hurts is thinking about the consequences. What would happen if I did this or that? Is it worth the risk? Does my choice have any potential downsides?
The most important thing when making a difficult decision is being honest with yourself about why you're doing something – because if you're not being honest with yourself, how can you be happy?
Decide what's important to you – and don't let anyone else tell you otherwise.
Dopamine activity was enhanced as a result of the participants actively choosing, as well as alterations in their attention circuits and how they felt about the action.
Get close to the persons you're talking to
If you show your loved ones that you care about them, they will reciprocate. Because, let's face it, we're all looking for someone to love and accept us.
Neuroscientists have also found that the brain releases a chemical called oxytocin when we’re around people we care about – which makes us feel good! Oxytocin also helps create long-lasting bonds between you and other human beings, so it can be the perfect way to feel more fulfilled in your life.
Exclusion from society triggers the same brain circuitry as pain, according to an fMRI experiment... After a while, they stopped sharing and merely threw back and forth between themselves, completely oblivious to the other person's presence. The anterior cingulate and insula were stimulated, as would be the case with physical discomfort, by this seemingly insignificant shift
So how can you make the most of this happiness-inducing ritual? Well, try to spend time with your loved ones regularly. Whether that means going out for dinner together or just hanging out at home, quality time is key!
Contact is the main means of releasing oxytocin. A handshake or a pat on the back is generally an acceptable form
of small-scale contact with others. Make an attempt to contact more frequently with those who are close to you.
You could also try organizing get-togethers with friends – it’s a great way to maximize your social time, and can also help create new relationships.
Making an effort to spend quality time with the people you love is one of the easiest ways to boost your happiness!
This has the opportunity to set off a chain reaction of positive emotions in your life. Alex Korb offers the following explanation:
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.