5 habits of happy brains

Happiness is work in progress but everyone’s process is different. The good news is that every day presents an opportunity to try something that can make you happier.

Many people blame their circumstances, situations out of their control or other people for their own unhappiness.

But the truth is that our happiness is our own responsibility. It’s like that Eleanor Roosevelt quote: “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” No one can take away your happiness without your consent.

Your happiness is an everyday process. You can do more of what makes you happy every day to fully experience it. Every day, you have the opportunity to control your mood. You can learn how to be happy and stay happy.

Dan Millman, author and lecturer in the personal development field explains, “I’d always believed that a life of quality, enjoyment, and wisdom was my human birthright and would be automatically bestowed upon me as time passed. I never suspected that I would have to learn how to live — that there were specific disciplines and ways of seeing the world I had to master before I could awaken to a simple, happy, uncomplicated life.”

Wildly happy people have embraced certain habits that set them apart from the rest — they have happy habits. Happy people do more of what reinforces their state of happiness. Elements of the happiness process involve specific routines, activities, and choices. And the more you practice them, the more your brain rewires itself to adjust to the new happiness habits.

When you feel good, your brain is releasing dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin, or endorphin — the quartet of chemicals responsible for your happiness.

We want more of these great feelings because our brains are designed to seek them. Here are a few things that any of us — at any stage of life — can start doing to feel the effects of more happiness in our lives.

1. Happy brains find and increase flow experiences

Have you ever lost yourself in something, so much so that you lost track of time? Being consumed by a task or activity, while it can be rare for most people, is a state of being called Flow.

It’s an optimal experience that can make you happy. From hiking to gardening, reading or even watching a particularly engrossing movie or TV show, flow basically describes the inherent sense of satisfaction.

In his best-selling book, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, credited with popularizing the flow state with his research in the 1980s and 90’s describes flow as “a state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter; the experience is so enjoyable that people will continue to do it even at great cost, for the sheer sake of doing it.”

During such spells, we experience the paradoxical sensation of time both having stood still internally in ‘our world’.

Flow can be achieved in just about any activity that requires prolonged mental effort and in which our participation is enjoyed, literally, for the sake of it.

To experience happiness without pursuing it, embrace daily happy habits. When your brain builds expectations about what will make you happy, it begins to rewire itself to seek more happy habits. If you decide to be happy, your brain will find things to be happy about.

2. They express gratitude — a skill for happier living

Research shows, for example, that the frequency of small, positive experiences has a greater impact on our life satisfaction than a few epic events of achievements. People who are grateful feel better about themselves and their lives, and they also show higher levels of happiness.

Expressing gratitude helps people feel good about themselves — which improves their self-esteem. Practicing gratitude can also make lasting changes in your brains.

“People who intentionally cultivate gratitude show greater neural sensitivity in the medial prefrontal cortex, a brain region associated with learning, rational thinking, and decision making,” says Ellie Cobb, Ph.D., a holistic psychologist and the director of Psychology for Thankful, a social enterprise and lifestyle brand focused on gratitude.

When practiced in our lives authentically, gratitude can help us feel more grounded, humble, and connected to the world around you. It draws people to us. Practiced over time, you won’t even have to think about it, and you’ll see the effects on your perspective in life.

3. The happiest people nurture deep, meaningful relationships

Good social relationships are the most consistent predictor of a happy life.

Heaps of research suggest that social connections make people happier. Satisfying relationships not only make people happy, but they also associated with better health and even longer life.

Relationships are connected to some of our strongest emotions. When they are positive we feel happiness, contentment, and calm. When relationships bring out the worst in us or they are non-existent, we feel anxious, depressed, and lonely.

A Harvard study on adult development (considered to be the most extended study, which started in 1938, tracked the lives of 724 men for 75 years) found that good relationships are the key factors that matter the most for long-lasting happiness.

“The lesson that came from tens of thousands of pages of that research was that good relationships keep us happier and healthier,” says Dr. Robert Waldinger, a psychiatrist, and director of the Harvard Study of Adult Development.

4. Happy people live in the moment

It’s extremely hard to be happy when you spend most of your time worrying about the past or living in fear of the future.

Life unfolding, but we are too occupied to notice. We are too busy worried about the past and the future that we let the present slip away, allowing time to rush past unobserved and unseized.

We squander to our precious seconds, minutes, hours, days, months and years as we worry about the future and ruminate about what’s past.

You can only live one moment at a time, choose to live in the moment. “Living in the moment — also called mindfulness — is a state of active, open, intentional attention on the present,” writes Jay Dixit of Psychology Today.

Lean into the little joys in life when you find them. The simple things are the most extraordinary things that sometimes make life easy to manage.

Don’t think too much about “enjoying” life. The moment you jump to “thinking mode”, and seek things to make your life fulfilling, the fullness of life will become a mirage.

5. Happy brains seek adventure —they taste the thrill of life in all its different forms

Planning adventure no matter how small can increase your happiness for days and weeks leading up to a trip through delayed gratification.

People are naturally excited, appreciative, less stressed, and more present when they are adventurous.

You can turn everyday life into an adventure — every day can be extraordinary. You can even be adventurous without leaving your home — take a different route to work, read about other things beyond your usual topics.

Learn a new skill that can make you indispensable in the future, and enjoy the excitement of the new experience. Fоr nature lоvеrѕ, adventure is an opportunity to appreciate amazing landscapes.

A study has found that spending two hours per week soaking up nature — be it woodland, park or beach — gives a positive boost to health and wellbeing, both mentally and physically.

To experience true happiness in the overlooked details, you must be willing to be surprised, or wrong in your assumptions.

Wake up each day ready to take those “small steps” toward your happiness — take good actions, no matter how small to boost your mood. Every little experience counts.

This article originally appeared on Medium.