Train your brain to be happier in 2017

I don’t know about you, but I feel like events in 2016 had me in a funk for most of the year. Yes, there were still lots of great things that happened. However, while I do my best to be an up kind of person, I am left with a bit of the old doom and gloom.

Though I plan to do everything in my power to combat it, I feel it’s highly likely politics, namely Brexit and the like, will continue to distress me.

I figure I need to do all I can to prepare by making myself as happy as possible. Experts on the brain say we can do things to trigger neurotransmitters to combat depression.

Here’s a sample of what I found. Maybe some of it can help you too. You can never OD on happiness, can you?

Good Day Jar


I especially like this because it’s so tangible. If you write things down in a book, they just stay hidden once the book is closed; even more so when it’s placed on a shelf or stuck under other papers.

This way it’s a work in progress, just like we are.

According to a book called The Upward Spiral (written by UCLA neuroscience researcher Alex Korb), gratitude releases dopamine and serotonin. The best part is that looking for things we are grateful for is what releases these neurotransmitters. You don’t even have to actually find things. So, when you are trying to find things to write on your little papers to fill your jar, you are releasing happy chemicals no matter how insignificant what you wrote seems.

I’ll bet looking at the jar will spark something too. When you are feeling low, it can stare back at you. Great idea and easy to do.

Reflect and define negative emotions

Photo via Sebastian Pichler via Visualhunt
Photo via Sebastian Pichler via Visualhunt

When something is really getting me down, I take a long walk. That gives me time to work through it in my head. Sometimes having a chat with a friend can do the same, or even googling and reading about other people’s experiences. This helps me objectify what I’m feeling.

Alex Korb says research reveals that if we label emotions, they lose their power over us. Also, suppressing them doesn’t make them go away. They just fester and sometimes have increased power.

I guess it’s like when you are a kid and you see a shadow and you are afraid. Once the lights are on and you know what it is, you can’t even see what frightened you in the first place.

Take time to actually smell the roses

Photo via listje via
Photo via listje via

How many times have we heard this one? I really do try to live in the moment and let enjoyable experiences happen. The new thing I’m going to do is to give it a little more time.

I was reading an article by Rick Hanson that said to do more than just notice the good around us. He says we need to feel it. We need to actually take 30 seconds or more and just be in the moment. I’ve been noticing good things and then taking a photo on my phone. What is that about? I can still take a photo for later, but I need to spend more time just enjoying.

The article says we should even take 30 seconds to be happy about things like having finished a task (like answering emails) before moving on to the next one. It says we should try to do this 6 times a day. Another suggestion is to do it right before bed because the brain is more receptive then.

Get a massage

Photo via carjens via Visual Hunt
Photo via carjens via Visual Hunt

Yes, that sounds good. But it’s not about treating yourself or rewarding yourself, though that’s also helpful. This is about being touched.

It seems personal interaction is really important. Text messages don’t count. They don’t activate the reward centres. So hanging with friends is really important. A pat on the back and a hug are good for a happy brain. Touching releases oxytocin.

Holding hands with someone you love actually reduces pain.

Studies on married couples showed the closer the relationship, the stronger the effect touch had.

So, since nobody loves me and I don’t see anyone interesting on the horizon, unless I find a touch improvisation class this year, I am going to have to settle for massage.

The Upward Spiral says, “The results are fairly clear that massage boosts your serotonin by as much as 30 percent. Massage also decreases stress hormones and raises dopamine levels, which helps you create new good habits… Massage reduces pain because the oxytocin system activates painkilling endorphins. Massage also improves sleep and reduces fatigue by increasing serotonin and dopamine and decreasing the stress hormone cortisol.”

Hey, science says I need it!

Artist, curator and writer: maeshelle west-davies gleans her varied life experiences to expose a personal perspective through a multitude of mediums.

Lulu's Chocolate Bar in Savannah: The gingerbread and mint chocolate cake slices we picked (and shared) were some of the best I have ever had. Photo: Dani Silvestri
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