The Happy Amygdala

I discovered the happy amygdala well over a decade ago. I stumbled across it on Neil Slade’s website. I was dubious about the ridiculously easy technique, but gave it a try because it was so easy. At that time, I had a job that was so bad, even “work for the dole” counselors, whose job is to make unemployed people look for work or have their benefits cut off, told their clients they didn’t have to accept a job from my employer.

We built multi-million dollar yachts, which sounds impressive, but we were just the grunt laborers. The factory was either freezing cold or stifling hot. You could see fiberglass in the air and the smell of toxic fumes was ever-present. Morale was low and fights frequently broke out.

One cold morning as I drove to work feeling miserable, I tried “amygdala tickling.” I had tried it many times before, but this time, I became instantly blissed out. From that day forward, I no longer hated my job. I got to know some of the guys in the factory and we started surfing together after work. Years later, I recounted my story to Neil and he included it in his book, Tickle Your Amygdala.

Science Finally Catching Up to the Happy Amygdala

I still get Neil’s newsletter. This morning, it contained a link to an article in Mindful (reprinted from the Greater Good) titled, How Happy Brains Respond to Negative Things. Here’s what it had to say about the amygdala, for decades considered to be the “fright, fight or flee” mechanism in the brain:

In a series of recent studies funded by the John Templeton Foundation (which also supports the work of the Greater Good Science Center), they’ve discovered a whole new amygdala — one that’s implicated in human connection, compassion, and happiness.

It’s worth mentioning that my workmate at the yacht factory hated me simply because of my American accent. After my extraordinary experience, I stopped resenting him and tried to get along. After I found a better job, a vacancy became available and I told him about it. I realized he felt trapped and took his frustration and anger out on me. We became friendly after that small act of compassion, which wouldn’t have happened if I had not “clicked forward” into the happy amygdala.

Neil Slade and his predecessor, TDA Lingo, were way ahead of science, but science may have added something to the amygdala dilemma. Here’s another quote from the article:

As the authors note, other research has linked the ability to connect with and help others to personal well-being. Taken together, these studies suggest that humans possess a subconscious “compassionate instinct” — an urge to help people that exists even in parts of the brain that are sometimes referred to as “primitive” or “reptilian.”

TDA Lingo referred to the reptile brain as EGGS: Ego, Greed, Grasp and Suck. He was partly right, but these recent studies suggest that compassion is built even into our reptilian brain. We just need to tap into it. Why would we want to? For two reasons:

  1. Our survival and the survival of the planet depends on it and
  2. It feels good.

Sites like Mindful and the Greater Good, which is run by UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center, are helping us get over the behaviorist’s model of the mind, which has caused so much damage.

Originally published at on April 8, 2016.