Thursday, January 5, 2017

4 Ways to a Happy Brain

C. Coimbra photo
The following is an edited version of This Week's Neuroscience discovers 5 things that will make you happy.   For condensing sake, we've listed four. Click the above link for the entire article.

So what's going to make you happy? Let's get more specific: What's going to make your brain happy? And let's focus on things that are simple and easy to do instead of stuff like winning the lottery.

Neuroscience has answers...

Alex Korb is a postdoctoral researcher in neuroscience at UCLA and author of The Upward Spiral.

So let's get to it. Alex has some great suggestions for simple things you can do to feel happier every day…

1. Listen to music from the happiest time in your life.
Music affects the brain in an interesting way: it can remind you of places you have listened to it before.

2. Smile — and wear sunglasses.
Sometimes your mind is getting all this random info and it isn't sure how to feel. So it looks around for clues. … You feel happy and that makes you smile. But it works both ways: when you smile, your brain can detect this and say, "I'm smiling. That must mean I'm happy."

Sunglasses kill the squint and can help tell your brain, "Hey, everything is okay." Here's Alex:
When you're looking at bright lights you have this natural reaction to squint. But that often has the unintended effect of you flexing this particular muscle, the "corrugator supercilii." Putting on sunglasses means you don't have to squint and therefore you're not contracting this muscle and it stops making your brain think, "Oh my God, I must be worried about something." It's really just a simple little interruption of that feedback loop.
So smile. And wear those sunglasses.

3. Thinking about goals changes how you see the world.
And I mean, literally. Researchers flashed a bunch of circles on a screen in front of study subjects. One of the circles was always slightly different than the others. It was brighter or smaller, etc.
But when they told people to prepare to point at or try to grab the circles something crazy happened…

If they thought about pointing at the circles, they became better at noticing the brighter circle.
If they were told to think about grabbing a circle, it was easier for them to identify the smaller circle.
What's that mean? Having a goal literally changed how they saw the world.

So when you're feeling stressed or challenged, think about your long-term goals. It gives your brain a sense of control and can release dopamine which will make you feel better and more motivated.

4. Get good sleep.
We all know depression messes up how people sleep. But what's interesting is it's actually a two way street: Bad sleep also causes depression. Here's Alex:
They took all these people with insomnia and followed them for a few years and it turned out that the people with chronic insomnia were much more likely to develop depression. Depression causes sleep problems but sleep problems are also more likely to lead to depression.

So how do you improve your sleep? Alex has a number of suggestions:
Get bright sunlight in the middle of the day. At night, try and stay in a dimly lit environment. Having a comfortable place to sleep and having a bedtime ritual so that your brain can prepare to go to sleep are also good. Trying to go to sleep at the same time every night and keeping a gratitude journal can also improve your sleep.

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