The Science Behind Happiness

“Unless you consciously take in a good experience, it usually washes through your brain like water through a sieve, leaving little good behind.”  page 27, Hardwiring Happiness, Rick Hanson.

The past several years I’ve found myself increasingly intrigued by the science behind ‘happiness’.  I was a bit surprised to learn that our brains are not wired to retain the happiness that occurs after happy experiences in our lives.  The quote that begins this blog is from an excellent book called Hardwiring Happiness, by Rick Hanson.  Rick Hanson describes how we need to consciously think about the happy things that occur in our lives; otherwise we do not retain much of the happiness from that experience.  So why is it important to retain the happiness from those good moments?  They add up.  For instance, when you feel you’ve had a good day (at work, at home, wherever), it’s usually because you can recount the happy things that happened…and the residual happy feelings of all those moments combined make you feel good.  But unfortunately, unlike the happy experiences we have, the un-happy or negative things that happen to us are imprinted quite quickly and permanently on our brains without much effort.  That realization was a bit unsettling to me.  It means that the negative experiences in our lives are naturally more prominent in our thoughts and subsequently we have to work harder to imprint the happy experiences on our brain.  Basically we have put work into re-wiring our brain in order to retain the happiness from our happy experiences.  Ugh.  (Insert *sigh* here…)

Children are the happiest people I know, which is probably why I’ve spent the entire 20 years of my educational career as a teacher, an Assistant Principal, and a Principal at the elementary school level.  It’s energizing working in an elementary school environment because there is such happiness being displayed constantly throughout the entire day.  And it’s infectious.  One happy moment with a student can change my outlook on an entire day.  It’s quite amazing when I think about it…the potential for happiness that is inherently embedded within hundreds of random moments throughout my school day.  So what I’ve decided to do over the past few years is consciously hold each of those happy moments with students in my head and my heart for a minute or two longer, letting the happy thoughts and feelings linger a bit so it imprints on my brain.  Believe me, the constant barrage of those happy moments throughout my school day start to add it up.  I’ve actually grown in my skill of retaining happiness throughout other parts of my life by simply taking an extra minute to be present as I’m feeling happy during the school day.  It’s the main reason why I walk around my school building with a smile.  My brain is being re-wired for happiness.

So the next time you have a happy moment, try sticking with it for a minute or two longer than you normally would.  Be present while in that happy moment, but also (very literally) think to yourself, “I’m feeling happy right now”.  Do that repeatedly for an entire day as happy moments occur.  As crazy as it sounds, it will actually help to build a happier outlook on life and re-wire your brain for happiness.



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