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Retraining the Brain to be Happy

Would you like to increase your happiness level, intelligence, and productivity? Psychologists study this question, and they've developed evidence-based practices that allow our brains to achieve greater success and increase our well-being. 

My favorite researcher on the topic is positive psychologist Shawn Achor. He's found that we can rewire our brains in as little as 21 days to be happier, smarter, and more productive by practicing these five activities:

1. Gratitude 
Write down three things you're grateful for each day. This practice trains our brains to seek out and remember the positives in our lives versus the negatives.

2. Journaling
Write about one positive experience that happened to you each day. This allows our brains to relive that experience, increasing our dopamine levels instantly. 

3. Exercise 
Having a regular exercise teaches your brain that your behaviors matter. 

4. Meditation 
This practice trains your brain to focus on one task at a time, allowing you to be more efficient and successful. 

5. Random Acts of Kindness 
Performing these acts turn on the pleasure and reward center of your brain.  

When we practice these exercises, our brains produce more dopamine, the “happy chemical,” which reduces depression and activates the learning centers in our brain. This makes us faster and more efficient at processing information. 

Achor’s research demonstrates our brains are more successful when they are in a positive state. This may seem obvious, but it is common for us to repeatedly think about our mistakes and the negatives within our lives, within others, and within the larger world. If we do this excessively, it can lead to depression, stress and avoidance of solving problems. 

But by practicing these five exercises, we can undo this negative thinking process. We can increase our overall happiness levels and stimulate positive growth within our brains. 

Kim Kilgore, L.C.S.W., is a licensed medical social worker at Barton Community Health Center. She provides counseling services for patients experiencing mild to moderate mental health issues. You can find more info on this subject from Shawn Achor’s TedTalk, “The Happiness Advantage,” available on YouTube.