“Anand is our true nature” an Eastern Perspective!
Mental Health Day during this pandemic year got me thinking about the dominant focus on the mind and yet it is the quality of the brain health that determines the fitness of our physical and mental states. Positive Psychology Research continues to reinforce that ‘Happiness has to be found within and created.’
Neuroscientists since the middle of the 20th Century, have investigated the mechanisms of positive emotion in the brain and body, prior to which, positive emotions were regarded as too subjective for rigorous scientific study. A better understanding of the brain chemicals known as neurotransmitters, has made it possible for further studies that have found:
“When the brain receives a positive sensory stimulus (something that feels good), it sends a signal to the ventral segmental area (VTA) in the midbrain. The VTA releases dopamine into the nucleus accumbens (the pleasure centre), the septum and amygdala (parts of the brain related to assessing and responding to threats), and the prefrontal cortex (the thinking part of the brain).”
This year I have spoken at several webinars on igniting the positive potential internally and this starts with the brain. Any external experience or stimulus is momentary; it is habits that create the constant secretion of dopamine to sustain the ‘feel good factor’ to ensure robustness of mental health.
“Happiness is a way of travelling – a journey for today, not a destination for some far-off tomorrow.” Robert Holden
The following eleven habits have been researched and validated to create a lifestyle that feels content and happy.
- Slowing down to appreciate little pleasures; such as the feel of a gentle breeze on the cheeks and its refreshing touch.
- Exercise, from gentle stretches to running marathons help to release tension and improve the flow of oxygen to the brain and improves fitness.
- Spending money on other people, this pandemic has increased opportunities to contribute to many causes and this adds meaning to life.
- Surrounding ourselves with the right people, people who stimulate; thinking, laughter, encouragement, challenge for betterment, supportive of new ideas and listen without expressing judgment.
- Getting enough sleep, research highlights that lack of sleep eventually impacts logic and reason; and hypersensitivity can get in the way of feeling happy. Sleep offers the ultimate rest for the brain and the body to rejuvenate and be more resilient.
- Commitment to learning, keeps the brain active and gives meaning to life with new knowledge, skills and capability.
- Counting blessings, through gratitude and appreciation journaling can help with feeling more positive and not taking blessings for granted. Positive Psychology research confirms that gratitude helps with relishing more positive experiences.
- Savouring pleasure, being attentive to joyous moments as they occur consciously enhances the brain’s capacity to recognise and enjoy the events. These can be sharing, celebration, single tasking or simplifying choices.
- Time in nature, instigates calmness as the body’s senses experience tranquility through sights and sounds; and this can slow down over thinking and reduce stress.
- Self Compassion and forgiveness, the ability to be warm and understanding towards oneself during tender moments and when goals fall short of expectation. Being able to be self compassionate also enables people to be kind to others.
- Mindfulness and Meditation, can change the brain’s activity and physical structure. Numerous studies using brain imaging has shown that monks and high-tech office workers trained to do mindfulness meditation showed a shift from right-sided to left-sided activation; showing improved mood and engagement in their activities. Having a daily meditation and mindfulness practice is important for keeping the brain healthy.
Daily routines and rhythms impact the potential of the brain to help people experience life with contentment and least stress. The eleven habits are a guide to shift from a deficit mindset to a growth mindset; overtime the list can grow longer or become more concise. Its important to ensure momentum and to acknowledge that it is the small things that impact outcomes.
Harvard Medical School, special health report on Positive Psychology