How to Hack Your Brain Into Feeling Happy Even With the Worst of Things
The science of how to trick your brain into being happier, and to have negative things bring you down less
The brain is essentially a nation with a bunch of highways on it. Signals, such as thoughts, feelings, sensations, etc. are the cars that drive the roads.
To rewire your brain into feeling happier, it’s important to understand this concept. The more you think about something, the stronger the highway to where that thought is located in the brain becomes. In other words, repeatedly thinking about someone’s name will strengthen the pathways that enable you to recall that name in the future. Not thinking about it results in what’s called pruning, the process by which your brain snips off unnecessary roads between neurons due to them being unused. Lastly. it’s important to note the brain will generally take the largest pathway when traveling anywhere, and those are the strongest, most thought-of roads. However, while the signal travels from one neuron to the next, it activates them, potentially activating certain thoughts, emotions, and the like.
Now, to rewire happiness into your brain you take advantage of these facts. First, you’ll want to think about things that make you happy a lot, to strengthen those roads. This way, even when not thinking about them, they are activated more because they are thick roads your brain wants to use. In doing so, it activates the happiness you get from thinking about your happy place. Normally for us, bad emotions, experiences, thoughts, etc. are the prominent roads our brain signals travel on, and that makes us more unhappy by activating those negative things. This is smart in the wild, our brain prioritizes negative experiences and feelings 5 times more than positive ones (because it’s the negative ones that get you killed). The consequences of this, however, make it so we are by nature pessimistic and unhappy often.
So what to do about those negative experiences and emotions? Besides strengthening your positive pathways, you want to actually link the positive and the negative. Let’s say you had a bad childhood and whenever you think about it, it depresses you deeply. From now on, whenever you think about that bad childhood, you should immediately think of your positive happy place again. This attaches more roads of a positive memory to the negative one, and so when the negative one is activated by thinking about it, it will travel through the positive road as well, eliciting positive feelings. This will diminish your depression when thinking about your childhood as a result.
If you’re interested in learning more, I recommend reading Hardwiring Happiness. This is pretty new science, so the verdict is still out on how much it helps, but the logic to me is compelling, particularly given what else I know about psychology. So give it a try, it’s one of the easiest, lowest-effort things you can do (even if you’re so depressed you’re just lying in bed all day, all you have to do is think!) to improve your happiness and reduce the effects of sadness. If you’d like clarification or anything, comment below!