Holidays got you down? Are you more into bah humbug, than the jolly ho, ho, ho?
Here are some “Whys” about what’s going on, along with some “How’s” for putting more jolly into this season, and all of life!
It’s true that happiness can be influenced by your genes. Thanks Mom and Dad. Fortunately, however, neuroscience is proving that there’s a lot we can do for ourselves to be happier.
Our brain’s first duty is to help us survive. It instantly goes into action the moment we’re under attack from any kind of kind of stress. Including the depression we can feel if we’re not blissfully happy, surrounded by loved ones, and enthusiastically participating in our culture’s unrealistic holiday expectations.
In those down times, seasonal or otherwise, the brain attempts to get our attention. “Notice what’s going on here, because it’s not in the best interest of your survival”. Ignoring these messages from our brain can manifest in anxiety and depression.
Then, in an effort to up our chances of avoiding those same unhealthy feelings in the future, we receive a reward of dopamine; our brain’s natural cocaine-like neurochemical. No surprise then that so many of us are hooked on emotional stress and worry as a way of life.
Chronic stress is a treacherous gremlin. It can result in an addiction that demands ever more dramatic stress and worry in order to satisfy what eventually becomes an unintended dopamine craving. Our health, success and happiness are the victims.
How can we kick an emotional distress habit? What would it take to boost our dopamine highs in healthy ways that pay off with better health, relationships and general wellbeing?
If you’re feeling down, there’s an easy activity that requires little energy, but offers huge returns on investment. This powerful depression defeater is gratitude.No need to be a gratitude guru. Even if you struggle to identify something to be grateful for, the simple act of looking for gratitude has been proven to raise dopamine to pleasurable levels.
Remain on the lookout for gratitude opportunities. Find reasons to express gratitude to others. More importantly, keep a dialogue going with yourself on the endless realistic reasons for feeling gratitude, small and large.
No need to wait for major successes. Get creative. Express gratitude to others in a brief email, quick text or phone call.Keep your brain busy in “conversational gratitude” when you have a flushing toilet, you have two legs that work, you don’t have to look for your keys, it was a day your computer didn’t get hacked, your kids are healthy, you arrived safely at work, you have toothpaste, etc. Develop a focus on gratitude as a personal habit.
As physical and emotional energy rise, get additional doses of dopamine from volunteering, physical activity, and a diet rich in Omega-3 fatty acids to support the body’s healthy production of dopamine. With dopamine pumped up, expect improvements in ease of social interactions, confidence, and optimism, even for confirmed introverts and pessimists, and even during the holidays!
Looking for more about the power of gratitude? ? Here are some excellent books by Robert A. Emmons.
Thanks!: How Practicing Gratitude Can Make You Happier,
Gratitude Works: A 21-Day Program for Creating Emotional Prosperity