How to Reset Your Brain and Enjoy a Happier Life
“Folks are usually about as happy as they make their minds up to be.”
― Abraham Lincoln (Tweet This)
What is your habitual emotion?
Do you often feel gloomy and flat or chirpy and enthusiastic?
Neurobiological scientists say our emotional thermostat regulates how we habitually feel. This thermostat is the emotional set point around which our daily mood swings. Some people have a low set point and mostly experience darker moods. Others have a higher set point, which allows them to experience sunnier moods.
Our emotional thermostat regulates every area of our life. It’s set by our brain functions and the beliefs we were programmed with during childhood.
What Is Your Emotional Set Point?
If it’s set to high, you are likely to experience joy and contentment in life. If it’s set to low, you may experience darker feelings.
But whatever your settings are, you’ll also sometimes experience emotions that outside your usual range.
For example, people with a high setting may still experience sadness, grief, or fear at certain times in their life. And people with a low setting may experience the euphoria of falling in love or of finding success and fulfillment in their activities.
But, sooner or later, everyone returns to their emotional set point.
So, what about raising your emotional set point. Is it possible?
Scientific research shows that we are able to lift our habitual set point. Just imagine feeling brighter and better, not only now and then, but on most days! Wouldn’t that be great?
3 Activities That Reset Your Emotional Thermostat
There are three ways to reset your emotional thermostat: by meditating, journaling, and exercising.
According to neuroscientist Dr. Sara Lazar, regular meditation reduces things like:
- Anxiety disorders
All the while, it enhances our ability to pay attention.
All in all, studies show that meditation increases your quality of life. Here is the experiment which proved that meditation raises the emotional set point:
Dr. Lazar took people who had never meditated before and enrolled them in an eight-week, meditation-based stress reduction program where they were asked to meditate for thirty to forty minutes each day.
At the start of the program, scientists scanned the participants’ brains. They were then re-scanned at the end of the program to see whether any changes occurred within the brain after meditation. The researchers found that the gray matter of the left hippocampus increased dramatically. This area of the brain assists in learning and memory and regulates emotions.
The brains of people who went through the meditation course also showed significant changes to the temporoparietal junction. This area connects to compassion and perspective-taking. (Perspective-taking is the ability to understand other people’s mental states — their thoughts, feelings, desires, motivations, and intentions.)
Change was also evident in the amygdala, the fight-or-flight part of your brain. In this area, researchers noticed a decrease in gray matter, which signifies a decrease in stress. Participants reported feeling less stressed, even weeks after the experiment had concluded.
The study shows that meditation triggers neurobiological changes, which lift the emotional set point for good.
Another activity that can adjust your emotional thermostat is journaling. A journal is a notebook in which you gather all the things which inspire and interest you.
Think of a journal like a workbook, where you can add random thoughts, brainwaves, quotes, snippets, or drawings. I call mine an Everything Book because you can add thoughts, meanderings, recipes, to-do lists, and even images to cut out and paste into it.
The main goal is to write in your journal each day. It’s a great way to start the day. Set your timer for five minutes and write non-stop, no matter what flops onto the page. It’s best to write by hand because this will prevent you from editing what you write.
As the Health Encyclopedia of the University of Rochester explains, journaling has many benefits. In general, it helps you deal with any overwhelming emotion by giving you a healthy outlet in which to express yourself.
Here are some of the benefits:
- Manage anxiety
- Reduce stress
- Cope with depression
- Feel happier
By helping you organize your problems, fears, and concerns journaling can control your symptoms and improve your mood. It also provides an opportunity for positive self-talk.
Keeping a journal helps you establish order when your world feels like it’s in chaos.
In a study done at the University of British Columbia, researchers found that regular exercise boosts the size of the hippocampus, the brain area involved in learning and memory.
But not every kind of exercise has a boosting effect on your brain, and not all of them can lift your emotional set point.
Researchers found that only aerobic exercise, which gets your heart pumping, increases the size of your hippocampus. Resistance training and muscle toning exercises don’t have the same results.
You have to sweat your way to a happier life!
Health journalist Heidi Godman says:
The benefits of exercise come directly from its ability to reduce insulin resistance, reduce inflammation, and stimulate the release of growth factors — chemicals in the brain that affect the health of brain cells, the growth of new blood vessels in the brain, and even the abundance and survival of new brain cells.
Here are three tips to make help you establish an exercise habit:
- Join a class or work out with a friend.
- Track your progress with a fitness app. Using an app will encourage you to set and reach goals.
- Think about hiring a personal trainer.
Exercise is like medicine. It’s important to establish a habit of exercise so that you get used to taking it as a prescription drug.
In Your Own Hands
As scientific research shows, raising the set point of your emotional thermostat is in your hands. You can raise it by using meditation, journaling, or exercise. Yes, you have the power to change whether you usually feel happy or unhappy.
But, advance only comes by changing your habits. Give meditation, journaling, and exercise a try to lift your emotional set point for a happier life.