How to Rewire Your Brain for Happiness: Science-Based Strategies for Self-Directed Neuroplasticity
Did you know that you can rewire your brain for happiness? It’s true! And it doesn’t require expensive pills or therapy. All you need is a little bit of knowledge and some practice. In this post, we will discuss some science-based strategies for rewiring your brain to experience more joy. We will also provide a list of different brain training exercises that you can do to get started. So if you’re ready to start feeling happier, keep reading!
One of the most important things to understand about happiness is that it is a skill. Just like any other skill, it can be learned and practiced. And the good news is, you don’t have to be a brain scientist to do it! Anyone can rewire their brain to tilt the scales in the direction of happiness with a little bit of effort, and the use of the right tools.
What is Self-directed Neuroplasticity?
So how does one go about rewiring their brain for happiness? The first step is to understand how the brain works. The brain is constantly changing and adapting in response to our thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. This process is known as neuroplasticity. When we deliberately focus our thoughts and actions on positive things, we are actually changing the function (and even structure) of our brains. Just like working a muscle in the gym.
Literally, every time you hold a certain thought in your mind or feeling in your body, it is like doing another repetition of the same exercise. So, in order to permanently shift your experience, you cannot simply “change your attitude” or shift your perspective one time. Rather, you need to ask yourself the question: “how do I want to feel instead?” – and then practice thinking the thoughts and doing the activities that will lead you to feel that way more often. The key is repetition and consistency. It’s not about doing it once as an intellectual exercise. But practicing it daily at every opportunity.
This may sound challenging, and if it were easy, everyone would be successful at it. But that’s why programs like the re-origin limbic retraining program exist. To guide and support you so you can take the daily steps and reclaim your health and happiness.
Overcoming the Brain’s Negativity Bias
Canadian psychologist, Donald Hebb famously states that “neurons that fire together, wire together.” This is basically a fancy way of saying that whatever you do, think, or feel repeatedly will facilitate and strengthen the connection of neurons, which then makes it easier for your brain to tap into that experience in the future.
Now, it’s important to note that there are roughly 11 million bits of information coming in through our senses each second. This is far too much for our brains to process at one time. So, it filters the information through a large-scale brain network called the salience network so that we don’t get overwhelmed. And because the brain’s first order of business is to protect us, it has evolved to preferentially filter in the information that may need our attention, e.g. emergency information that leads to negative thoughts or negative experiences, because it has classified that information as potentially harmful. Author and neuroscience researcher Steven Kotler states that out of the 11 million bits of information coming in through the senses per second, roughly 9 million bits are negative, or perceived as negative.
The problem is, in this day and age, that most of the so-called “negative” information (e.g. negative news, social media, comparison to others, etc), unpleasant as it may be, is NOT life-threatening, and therefore does not actually warrant that much of your attention.
The good news is that once you realize this and understand that you are in fact free to choose your own thoughts and actions, you liberate yourself and can create the experience that YOU actually want to have.
Negative emotions then no longer feel like a prison. They merely appear as one option, in a vast array of experiential possibilities. And each time you successfully choose to redirect your attention to something that feels more positive, you break old neural connections in the hippocampus and other regions of the brain that have formed memories. Now you’re free to build new positive neural connections that will make it easier for you to have positive feelings, and positive emotions, and have a positive experience in the future.
Research shows that it takes up to 66 days for synapses to radically change enough for you to form a new habit. This is the state at which you no longer need to exert conscious effort to remember to change gears, but rather, the “positive thinking” and positive feeling gears have now become your new default mode, thanks to neuroplasticity and your brain’s ability to change.
There are many different ways to rewire your brain for happiness. One way commonly put forth by neuroscientists in the field of positive psychology, is to practice gratitude. Gratitude has been scientifically shown to increase levels of dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin, and endorphins – all the brain’s “feel good chemicals” that lead to higher happiness and well-being. You can practice gratitude by keeping a gratitude journal, where you write down things you are grateful for each day. Another way to rewire your brain and build stronger neural connections for happiness is to practice directing your awareness to aspects of your environment that look, sound, or feel good or even just interesting! – Simple as it may seem, this brain plasticity exercise makes use of external stimuli to shift your brain’s chemistry and expand your scope of awareness through what neuroscientists call, exteroception – your deliberate focus on the outside world as opposed to getting stuck in our own heads.
Training the Skill of Happiness
There are many other ways to rewire your brain for happiness. If you want to learn more, re-origin offers a complete program that walks you through, step by step, how you can rewire your brain to be happier, healthier, and return to feeling like you again. We suggest checking out these great resources below. And remember, it’s never too late to start rewiring your brain for happiness!
Top books on rewiring your brain for happiness
- The Happiness Advantage by Shawn Achor
- The Neuroscience of Happiness by Rick Hanson
- Hardwiring Happiness by Laurie Santos
- Happier by Tal Ben-Shahar
- The How of Happiness by Sonja Lyubomirsky
- Positive Psychology by Martin Seligman
- Flourish by Martin Seligman
- Authentic Happiness by Martin Seligman
So there you have it! A science-based approach to rewiring your brain for happiness. We hope you found this information helpful and that you’ll start practicing some of these strategies today.
- Gardner, B., Lally, P., & Wardle, J. (2012). Making health habitual: the psychology of ‘habit-formation’ and general practice. The British journal of general practice : the journal of the Royal College of General Practitioners, 62(605), 664–666. https://doi.org/10.3399/bjgp12X659466. Accessible from: https://ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3505409/
- Hazlett, L. I., Moieni, M., Irwin, M. R., Haltom, K. E. B., Jevtic, I., Meyer, M. L., Breen, E. C., Cole, S. W., & Eisenberger, N. I. (2021). Exploring neural mechanisms of the health benefits of gratitude in women: A randomized controlled trial. Brain, Behavior, and Immunity, 95, 444–453. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.bbi.2021.04.019. Accessible from: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S088915912100177X