So, how did it go this past week as you noticed the "jewels" all around you? What grabbed your attention that you might not have noticed before? What you were doing was activating pathways in your brain associated with feeling happier, but even more interestingly, if you did it every day, 5-15 times a day, you were "re-wiring" your brain so you could experience even greater levels of happiness over time.
Your brain is truly amazing! In that little 3 pounds or so of that half-walnut shaped organ, which is basically the consistency of butter or tofu, there are about 80-100 billion neurons signaling to each other through a network of connections called synapses, and there are about half a quadrillion synapses. It has the capacity to make tens of thousands of calculations in a second and is faster than any super-computer on earth.
The field of Neuroscience has made many discoveries over the last 50 years, and we now know the brain has the capacity for something called Neuroplasticity. That means the brain is moldable, can change its actual physical structure, can repair areas that have been damaged through a stroke or head trauma, can grow new neurons and get rid of old ones, and can continue developing new neural pathways even into old age if you continue to learn new things. It means that the circuits in your brain can be rewired. New synapses start growing within minutes of having a new experience or doing a vivid mental exercise. When conscious, intense, and repetitive activity is happening between those synapses, an enduring pattern is formed in the brain. In other words, what you think about and feel over and over strengthens and expands the neural networks associated with those thoughts and feelings, whether you are feeling anxious and thinking worrisome thoughts, or feeling happy and thinking joyful thoughts. That actually increases the likelihood of you continuing to think and feel more of the same! The good news, though is that you can train your brain to be happier.
Here is another strategy for doing that:
We all have moments in our life that were pleasurable, peaceful, and happy, even if there is pain in our Life Story. It's possible to go back in our memories and take from them the happiness in those moments and transpose it to the present. If you can ever recall seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, or touching something you loved or doing something that added joy or brightness to your day, then you already have developed neural pathways associated with those good memories. For example, can you recall seeing a beautiful sunset, or flowers blooming in the spring, or leaves turning brilliant red and gold in the fall? Are you able to imagine hearing the sounds of a band playing on the 4th of July, or the summer nighttime sounds of crickets, or a crackling fire in the fireplace? Can you recall tasting real maple syrup on a pancake, or the sticky, gooiness of a roasted marshmallow, or your favorite Mac 'N Cheese? What about smelling cinnamon, or bread baking, or a pine forest? Are you able to recall the physical sensations of swinging in a swing, or walking barefoot in the sand on a beach, or hugging your pet? These are jewels from your past, and by recalling them in as much detail and intensity as you can, you re-activate the neural pathways in your brain associated with those memories, including the emotions and physical sensations that are part of the memories.
Here is an exercise to try: Take a sheet of paper and divide it into 5 columns. Across the top, write "Sights," "Sounds," "Smells," "Tastes," and "Physical Sensations." Then take a 1/2 hour or so to start making a list of all those things you have ever loved experiencing with your five primary senses. In the future, every time you find something new that you enjoy, add it to your list. Periodically read through your list, taking 5-10 seconds to just imagine each thing on your list.
While taking in and taking from won't change your circumstances or solve a problem you're experiencing, they can help you feel happier, calmer, more peaceful, and more contented. And who knows...maybe you'll be in a better place to figure out how to solve that problem.