How to train (and rewire) your brain for happiness

Our brains are wired to be negative, but the good news is that you can train your brain to hold on to happiness in a few minutes a day.

As we understand better how the brain works, it gives us more power to change our mind in so many ways, says Rick Hanson, neuropsychologist and author of the book Hardwiring Happiness: The New Brain Science of Contentment, Calm, and Confidence.

All mental activities – sights, sounds, thoughts, emotions, and both conscious and unconscious processes – are the result of firing neurons.

Intense, prolonged, or repeated neural activity leaves an enduring imprint through which future neurons are likely to flow.


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Like a river shapes land, the more we think and feel a certain way, the deeper the river channel becomes and the more likely we are to think and feel the same way in the future.

You can train your brain to scan for the good things in life — to help you see more possibility, to feel more energy, and to succeed at higher levels.

Happiness isn’t a destination.

It’s what we do to make everything else in life awesome.

And once we make that internal shift, we can put our day-to-day external frustrations into perspective.

According to Shawn Achor, psychologist, Harvard researcher, and author of The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology That Fuel Success and Performance at Work, when you raise the positivity levels in your brain, you actually do better work and, generally, are happier.

Acknowledge your negative bias

Our brains are awesome at overlearning from negative experiences.

“The brain continuously scans for bad news,” says Hanson. “As soon as it finds the bad news, it overly focuses on it.”

Spend a few minutes every day acknowledging your negative emotional state. Label your feelings and consider how those emotions are likely to affect your life now and in the future.

Whether you’re feeling sad about something in your personal life, or worried about something going on at the office, your emotions will spill over into other areas of your life if you aren’t aware of them.

Try not to overlearn from your negative experiences.

“The brain is like a garden, except its soil is very fertile for weeds,” says Hanson.

Practice gratitude

What is the one unique thing you are grateful for today?

Practice writting everything you are grateful for every now and then.

Don’t write the same things everyday.

Selecting unique areas of gratitude each day forces you to re-frame your perspective to look for the positive, rather than the negative, aspects in your daily life.

Gratitude has been linked to a host of physical and psychological benefits, including happiness.

One study found that grateful people are 25 percent happier.

So whether you make it a habit to talk about what you’re grateful for, or you write in a gratitude journal before bed, train your brain to look for the good in your life.

It could be the simplest, most effective way to boost your well-being.

Charles Dickens puts this well: “Reflect upon your present blessings, of which every man has many, not your past misfortunes, of which all men have some.”

Exercise releases happy chemicals into your brain

Sure, you know exercise is good for you.

But did you know that exercise can also make you a happy?

Dopamine, a chemical that plays a role in happiness, is a neurotransmitter in the brain that’s necessary for feelings of pleasure and happiness.

Many studies suggest that as we age, we’re constantly losing our stores of dopamine, which is why we need to constantly seek out experiences and situations that can help in releasing dopamine in the brain.

Going to the gym may not be for you, but simple activities like running or brisk walking in the neighborhood, sit-ups and playing ball games will do.

The next time you’re feeling down, stressed or anxious, get off the couch and get some exercise instead.

Embrace positive journaling

Count your blessings, lucks, fortunes and everything good that happened today. Each day, spend just two minutes writing about one or two positive experience that happened to you in the past 24 hours.

One method of positive journaling is to write just three new things you are grateful every day for 21 days. This trains the brain to constantly be on the lookout for something to appreciate.

This invites your brain to re-live that situation, which doubles the positive impact it has on your life. It’s an amazing experience, don’t miss out on positive journaling.

Shawn Achor writes, “Focusing on the good isn’t just about overcoming our inner grump to see the glass half full. It’s about opening our minds to the ideas and opportunities that will help us be more productive, effective, and successful at work and in life.”

In Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being, Martin E P Seligman encourages use to make journaling a daily habit.

“Every night for the next week, set aside ten minutes before you go to sleep. Write down three things that went well today and why they went well. You may use a journal or your computer to write about the events, but it is important that you have a physical record of what you wrote, ”he says.

Yes, meditation can train your brain for happiness

Mindfulness meditation has been reported to produce positive effects on psychological well-being that extend beyond the time the individual is formally meditating.

Parts of your brain associated with compassion and self-awareness grows while parts associated with stress shrink when you meditate, according to research from Massachusetts General Hospital.

The study looked at brain scans of people before and after they participated in a course on mindfulness meditation. Studies report that meditation can “permanently rewire” your brain to raise levels of happiness.

Make time (even if it’s just two minutes a day) to meditate.

Find a quiet place and focus on your breathing – and nothing else – for at least two minutes each day.

In our distracted world, this can be hard but it’s not impossible.

If you do it successfully, and consistently make it a habit, you’ll sleep better, feel less stressed, and have more energy.

Key takeaway

Exercise your brain for happiness every day, and over time, you’ll train it for happiness and long-term success.

As you increasingly install experiences of gratitude, gladness, accomplishment, feeling successful, feeling that there’s a fullness in your life rather than an emptiness or a scarcity, you will be able to deal with issues such as loss, or being thwarted, or being disappointed.

Before you go …

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Oppong is the founder @Alltopstartups. Curator at postanly.com, Columnist at Inc. Magazine. Featured at Business Insider, Quartz, CNBC, Entrepreneur, HuffPost, etc.

This post originally appeared on Medium and is reprinted with permission.