Your brain is not your friend — at least the type who is concerned about your happiness. This fifteen-centimeter soft mass of tissue would rather have you alive than in a good mood. Survival is the number one priority, even if it will put you in a constant state of paranoia and anxiety. At the surface level, this makes sense because you won’t be able to feel anything if you’re not alive, but what kind of existence is that?
Evolution is the number one culprit why the brain is wired to make you miserable. Focusing and dwelling on bad experiences help the mind guide the body to avoid dangerous situations. While this kind of thinking helped ancient humans survive a perilous world, the bias for negativity has led to a population having mental health issues. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, 40 million people have anxiety disorders in the United States yearly.
The good news is it is possible to hack the brain’s system and reinforce more positive thinking. The mind can form new connections and destroy old ones through the process of structural plasticity. That is what happens when you’re learning new concepts and skills, and then using them often. The connections that are regularly used will be strengthened while those that are forgotten will be gone.
Whenever you feel sad and anxious, you can try out these steps to steer your brain to a happier path.
Laugh and smile
Fake it until you make it! Smiling and laughing can help uplift one’s mood by tricking your brain into believing you’re feeling happy. It will release a happy hormone called endorphins, which relieves pain and lowers stress. You might even find yourself thinking of happy memories that can fuel the laugh and smile with more fuel. The next thing you know, you’re doing it for real.
A smile is also contagious due to sensorimotor simulation in the brain. We mimic other people’s expressions to grasp better what they’re feeling, which can trigger the same emotional state in ourselves.
Adopt a pet
Pets are famous for their ability to improve a person’s physical and mental well-being. They can ease loneliness and sadness with their companionship and playful antics. You’re less likely to ruminate and dwell with your negative thoughts if there’s a living being eager to spend time with you. Regular walks and exercises with dogs will also force you out of a lethargic state and have you move around, reaping health benefits from the physical activity. If you are not able to get a pet, looking at cute puppy training videos and cat memes is a great alternative.
Listen to music
The easiest and fastest way to boost your mood is by listening to music. Music activates the part of the brain associated with emotion regulation, releasing feel-good hormones and lowering stress-related chemicals. You might notice that a work-out is more exciting with upbeat tunes while you can study better with a slow tempo and drawn-out notes. Music can also help you remember wonderful memories that can make you happy.
Understanding how the brain works and how it reacts can help in rewiring its connection to your advantage. You can promote positive thinking through laughing and smiling, spending time with a pet, and listening to music.