3 ways to make you feel happier

Feeling grumpy?
Constantly worrying?
Here are 3 ways to make you feel happier

So the warm summer sunshine is finally here.  The windows are thrown open and the birdsong and cool, fresh breeze bathe my senses.  But hang on a minute, I’m not feeling totally full of the joys of summer, because I’m worried.  I won’t go into why, but I’m worried. And normally, I’m a very positive kind of person.

It happens to us all, right? The stresses and strains of everyday life can take their toll on the best of us.  We can’t be, and aren’t always, 100% happy. Sometimes we know exactly why we feel down, sometimes we don’t.

Since there is nothing better than feeling upbeat, here’s how you can help yourself to get back your sparkle.

#1: Play the gratitude game

Your brain is an amazing and powerfully complex machine.  And quite frankly it runs my body and keeps me ticking very nicely, thanks; most of the time.  However, it’s a sneaky little pest. If you’re worrying, or feeling guilty, it may be that your brain is trying to activate its reward centre.  Yes; it’s true! Neuroscientific research has shown that these exact feelings all stimulate the brain’s reward centre.

We all know someone who is constantly worrying.  And we all know people who regularly feel guilty.  You might be one of them! But in doing so, similar neural circuits are fired within the brain to feelings of contentment, happiness and pride. Worrying creates the same brain chemistry as more positive emotions.

So if you’re playing the brain game, gratitude wins every time.  If your brain has nothing better to do, it can fill its own space with negativity; even if it is negativity with subliminal positive reward.  So fool it; take back control. Thinking of something that you are grateful for, or remembering a happy event, increases the production of serotonin; the brain’s happy drug.  This occurs in the region just behind the prefrontal cortex that controls attention. So, remembering positive things has a two-fold effect: it directly increases serotonin, and also keeps you from thinking about negative events.

By making a habit of acknowledging what you are grateful for each and every day, I promise you, your general mood will lift and anxiety levels will decrease.  And like any activity, the more you practise, the easier (habitual) it will become and the more sustained your happiness will be.  

#2: Smile

But it’s really hard to control your emotions, I hear you say.  True. But let me counter that argument by telling you to smile. Yes it’s that simple.  Just the physical act of smiling creates positive feedback to your brain, as you engage your facial muscles (the zygomatic major to be precise).  The brain senses the flexion of these muscles and automatically interprets that as being happy.  

Even better is the fact that smiling at others (ok an insane grin doesn’t count.  Well it does actually, but it might be a bit risky or strange!) is known to be contagious.  People mimic emotional expressions. So give the gift of a smile to someone else and appreciate the resulting reciprocal smile.  I bet you a decent amount of money that your original smile got even bigger and your emotions shifted up a notch on the happy scale.  

#3: Name that emotion

Still not feeling fabulous?  Describe your emotions in a word or two.  Even better, just keep writing and get your thoughts on paper.  Let it flow.  Don’t worry about spelling, or grammar, or even making sense.  Just get it out of your head and on that page.

What is it that you are feeling?  Write it down. Say it out loud. By answering the question you activate the prefrontal cortex, and by default reduce the arousal in the limbic (emotional) system in your brain.  In essence, it’s another good distraction tactic to reduce the level of emotion you’re feeling. 

I’m not professing to be a therapist, or magic-wand-waver, or medic.  But I do know (because the neuroscience backs it all up) the little things that are in our control can make a difference to how happy we generally feel. 

What have you lose by trying these simple techniques?