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Train Your Brain To Be Happy

Are you a glass half full kind of mom, or do you always worry about doom and gloom in the future? 

Compelling research supports the idea that having a positive outlook can be a big benefit to your physical health.   Researchers at the National Institute for Health have been working to better understand the connection between your attitude and your physical health.

Let’s face it, parenting has a lot of ups and downs.  There will be many celebrations and challenges along the way.  So, if you can train yourself to be happier and more positive, this mommy thing will be a breeze. (Okay, maybe not a breeze, but a little better!)

Evidence suggests that you can “train” yourself to be happier.  In other words, emotional wellness can be improved by developing certain skills and practices.  This also means that we can teach our children to grow up happier too!

To clarify, having a positive outlook does not mean that you never feel negative emotions such as sadness or anger.  It just means that you have a higher ratio of positive to negative feelings and are able to bounce back from difficult situations faster.

Positive emotions expand our awareness and open us up to new ideas, so we can grow

A key finding in the research was that positive people seemed to have more resilience.  Another sign of emotional wellness is being able to hold onto positive emotions longer and appreciate the good times. Developing a sense of meaning and purpose in life—and focusing on what’s important to you—also contributes to emotional wellness.

On the other hand, people who are more negative or pessimistic, can let negative emotions get out of hand.  This type of person tends to couple negative emotions with regret about the past or excessive worry about the future.  When the emotions are not really related to your present condition, you are more likely to dwell on them longer.

The Happiness-Health Connection

There is a significant amount of research that shows real links between an upbeat mental state and improved health, including lower blood pressure, reduced risk for heart disease, healthier weight, better blood sugar levels, and longer life.

Positive emotions trigger the brain’s reward center, including the ventral striatum.  People who have prolonged positive emotions, tend the have long lasting activation in the ventral striatum.  It is the continued activation in this area of the brain that is linked to improved health and lower stress hormones.

In contrast, negative emotions trigger the region of the brain known as the amygdala, which is responsible for fear and anxiety.  Those who dwell on negative emotions keep the amygdala activated longer.  Lasting activation of the amygdala is associated with a higher health risk and higher stress hormone concentrations in the body – which lead to further inflammation and dysfunction.

Happiness and Well-Being is a Skill

Growing evidence suggests that several techniques—including meditation, cognitive therapy (a type of psychotherapy), and gratitude (thinking about the things you find important)—can help people develop the skills needed to make positive, healthful changes.

What this means is that you can actually alter your brain circuitry to promote more positive responses.  The more you practice, the better you will get at it.

Try it yourself.  For the next 30 days, take this little Happiness Challenge with me!  Here are the details.

  1. Keep a journal – it can be on your phone, in a book, or on your computer. Each morning, write 3 things you are grateful for. Each night, write 3 things that went well for you during the day.
  2. Each week, go out of your way to thank or show appreciation for others. Send an email, a text message, make a phone call – just make sure you connect.
  3. Write down 3 things you love about yourself. Put in on a piece of paper, and look at it several times per day.  Once in the morning before you start your day, once midday, and again in the evening.  Add to this list anytime something pops in your head.

Stick to those three steps for 30 days, and I guarantee you will be a happier, healthier, more positive person.

Just remember to be open to positive change!  Understanding that you have control over what emotions you experience is such a powerful feeling.

P.S. this is a wonderful practice to share with your children.

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