The Simple Question to Ask Yourself For a Happiness Upgrade – Backed By Research

Did you know that your brain can mimic anti-depressants when you ask yourself a simple question?

It’s true. New neuroscience proves it.

This worked for me and I believe it can make a positive difference in your life too. It’s helped my clients who often remind me how important it is to carry the essence of this article.

Here we go…prepare to upgrade your happiness.  

Ever heard of serotonin and dopamine?

Serotonin and dopamine are two tiny chemicals in our brains.  The levels of these chemicals in our brain affect our emotions.  When levels of these little chemicals go up in the brain, we feel good.

Recent research shows that the elevation of dopamine is just one of the ways people feel good searching their Smartphones, the Internet and social media.

Enough tech stuff.

There’s more.

People can also make themselves happier by increasing dopamine and serotonin levels in their brain. New neuroscience shows that people can raise these happy messengers without drugs, without exercise and without taking supplements.

How?

By asking ourselves a simple question.

This is not entirely new.  The notion that changes in thought, either self-induced or with therapy, can alter brain chemistry has been around awhile.  Some forms of self-induced changes in brain chemistry via meditation have been around over tens of thousands of years.

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What’s New?

What is new is a recent study that showed how meditation was reported to increase the release of dopamine.

From: Pub. Med. Kjaer TW, Bertelsen C, Piccini P, et al. Increased dopamine tone during meditation-induced change of consciousness. Brain Res Cogn Brain Res 2002;13:255-9. (1)

During meditation, 11C-raclopride binding in ventral striatum decreased by 7.9%. This corresponds to a 65% increase in endogenous dopamine release.

Not only can dopamine go up in a self-induced manner, but so can serotonin.

From: Journal of Psychiatry and Neuroscience. (2)

Self-induced changes in mood can influence serotonin synthesis.

Pretty cool stuff, especially if you like meditation.

But meditation isn’t for everybody. No worries.  No need to meditate with a Buddha Brain or practice snowga to benefit.

There’s a shortcut. I promise.

The shortcut to a happiness upgrade arrives when you ask yourself a simple question.

Shifting gears for a second, but still along the topic.

Ever heard of Paxil?  It’s a drug that treats depression and anxiety. Know how? By boosting serotonin levels.

From: The Upward Spiral: Using Neuroscience to Reverse the Course of Depression, One Small Change at a Time (3)

Neuroscientists tell us by answering the simple question, we can boost serotonin too.

How about Wellbutrin?  It’s another drug used to treat depression. It raises dopamine.

From: The Upward Spiral: Using Neuroscience to Reverse the Course of Depression, One Small Change at a Time

Neuroscientists say answering the simple question raises dopamine too.

You ready for the simple question to ask yourself for a happiness upgrade? Here’s a place I often think of it.

2015_fall_between_trees

Being in nature is one place I like to reflect on the simple question. This picture from our property captures the meaning of the question.  And that question would be…

What Am I Grateful For?

Here’s how this simple question helps us to feel happier.

From: The Upward Spiral: Using Neuroscience to Reverse the Course of Depression, One Small Change at a Time

According to neuroscientist Dr. Alex Korb, research shows that the benefits of gratitude activate the brain stem region where dopamine gets produced.  And, having gratitude for others elevates social dopamine circuits.  This makes interacting with others more enjoyable.

And…

From: The Upward Spiral: Using Neuroscience to Reverse the Course of Depression, One Small Change at a Time

Dr. Korb’s neuroscience research also shows that gratitude can boost serotonin.  By making an effort to think of things for which we feel grateful, positive aspects of life become the focus.  When this happens, the production of serotonin increases in the part of our brain known as the anterior cingulate cortex.

We ask ourselves the question and just like that we get a happier brain!  We’re in a better mood and the world is awesome!

Maybe not.

Maybe everything sucks right now. It happens to all of us. Times can be hard. We get stuck. Sometimes we just can’t seem to find anything for which to be grateful.

Fear not. Seeking is what matters. Remember to look.

From: The Upward Spiral: Using Neuroscience to Reverse the Course of Depression, One Small Change at a Time

According to one study, Dr. Korb found that what we are grateful for is less important than remembering to look.  Researchers suggest that remembering to be grateful is a form of emotional intelligence.  And making the effort to be grateful affected the neuron density in both the ventromedial and lateral prefrontal cortex of the brain.  Changes in neuron density enhances efficiency for this process in the brain.  This raises emotional intelligence.  When emotional intelligence elevates, it’s easier to be grateful. And when you feel grateful, you also feel happier.

And practicing gratitude offers benefits beyond a happiness upgrade.

From: Thanks – How the Science of Gratitude Can Make You Happier (4)

Preliminary findings suggest that those who regularly practice grateful thinking do reap emotional, physical, and interpersonal benefits.

A gratitude journal may support your ability to stick with exercise, be healthy, be happy and be optimistic.

From: Thanks – How the Science of Gratitude Can Make You Happier

Adults who keep gratitude journals on a regular basis exercise more regularly, report fewer illness symptoms, feel better about their lives as a whole, and are optimistic about the future.

Gratitude is also a stress-fighter.

From: Thanks – How the Science of Gratitude Can Make You Happier

We have discovered that a person who experiences gratitude is able to cope more effectively with everyday stress, may show increased resilience in the face of trauma-induced stress, and may recover more quickly from illness and benefit from greater physical health.

Being grateful also enriches the human experience, fosters humility and inspires.

From: Thanks – How the Science of Gratitude Can Make You Happier

We have also found that when people experience gratitude, they feel more loving and forgiving.  Gratitude elevates, it energizes it inspires, it transforms. People are moved, opened, and humbled through experiences and expressions of gratitude.

Alright, no need to keep hittin ya with the gratitude stick.

Please hang on a second though. Before you click somewhere else.

One more thing.

Careful not to get too “gratitudish.”  Not sure if that’s a word, but you know what I mean.

Balance is key.  Just like it’s wise to use extreme caution with extreme exercise, the same is true with gratitude practice. Gratitude practice may lose its positive effects over time, especially when it feels like a chore.

In her book, The How of Happiness: A New Approach to Getting the Life You Want, happiness research expert, Sonja Lyubomirsky, suggests that how we practice gratitude and how often is very subjective.  We have to find what works for us.

From: The How of Happiness: A New Approach to Getting the Life You Want (5)

One study suggested that practicing gratitude by counting your blessings as a daily activity didn’t seem as beneficial as counting your blessings once a week.

Based on this study, it seems like asking yourself what you are grateful for once a week would be a good place to start for a happiness upgrade.

Wrap-Up

  1. Asking yourself “What are you grateful for?” has healthy effects in the brain. Seeking to answer the question elevates both dopamine and serotonin levels, which triggers a “happiness upgrade”.
  2. If you can’t answer the question, do your best to try. Seeking to answer the question helps activate the pathways of your brain associated with happiness.
  3. Happiness research suggests practicing gratitude once a week is a good place to start, but it’s a personal decision as more often can be good too, but too much might not be as helpful.
  4. People who practice gratitude are more likely to stick with an exercise program, feel happier, healthier, more loving more, forgiving, and more inspired.

Thank you for Reading!  I am grateful for that!

Please share this positive message with friends.

Related Article:

The Healthy Value of an Attitude of Gratitude

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References

1. PubMed. Kjaer TW, Bertelsen C, Piccini P, et al. Increased dopamine tone during meditation-induced change of consciousness. Brain Res Cogn Brain Res 2002;13:255-9.

2. PubMed. Perreau-Linck E, Beauregard M, Gravel P, et al. In vivo measurements of brain trapping of α-[11C]methyl-L-tryptophan during acute changes in mood states. J Psychiatry Neurosci2007;32:430-4.

3. The Upward Spiral: Using Neuroscience to Reverse the Course of Depression, One Small Change at a Time, Dr. Alex Korb, Rain Coast Books, 2015.

4. Thanks!: How the New Science of Gratitude Can Make You Happier, Emmons, Robert, 2007.

5. The How of Happiness: A New Approach to Getting the Life You Want, Lyubomirsky, Sonja, 2008.

About Dave Barnas, M.S., CES, NASM-CPT

Dave is a true health expert. He is the founder and owner of True Health Unlimited, LLC, a personal health and fitness company in Tolland, CT. Dave earned both a Bachelor's (1998) and Master's Degree (2000) in Nutritional Science from the University of Connecticut, and also holds certifications as a National Strength and Conditioning Association Certified Personal Trainer, National Academy of Sports Medicine Certified Personal Trainer and Corrective Exercise Specialist, Aerobics and Fitness Association of America Group Instructor, and Nutrition Specialist. He's also the lead author for four published works. Dave has over 18,000 hours of combined experience in nutrition counseling, dietary supplement advising, personal training, corrective exercise training, health coaching and public speaking. In addition, he's spent over 20 years studying spirituality, meditation, and personal growth strategies. Dave's clients are all ages: youth, college championship level athletes, folks in their retired years, and everywhere in between. He's worked with three of the nation's leading physicians as a dietary supplement advisor and been a guest lecturer at Harvard University, Yale University, UConn, St. Joseph College and various church groups, health clubs, and high schools. In 2013, he was invited to Whole Foods Market to share his Real Food Therapy Guide. And in 2015, Dave's funny "Snowga" (yoga in the snow) video caught the attention of The National Weather Channel, who aired it to shake off cabin fever and bring laughter. In 2016, Dave & Hollie (his beloved) began writing evidence-based Wellness Newsletters to spread a message of health and happiness to various small businesses throughout Connecticut.

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