Ten Long Deep Breaths
A research team from Massachusetts General Hospital looked at brain scans of people before and after they participated in a course on mindfulness meditation and published the results in Psychiatry Research. What happened? After the course, parts of the brain associated with compassion and self-awareness grew while parts associated with stress shrank.
Studies report that meditation can “permanently rewire” your brain to raise levels of happiness. If you’re having trouble getting started, try an app like Calm or Ten Percent Happier.
If you can be happy with simple things, then it will be simple to be happy.
Find a book or a journal, or start a website, and write down five things you’re grateful for from the past week. More if you have them! Once you get going it will become easier. But the key here is actually writing them down. I wrote five gratitudes a week for four years on my blog 1000 Awesome Things. Some people write in a notebook by their bedside.
Back in 2003, researchers Robert Emmons and Michael McCullough asked groups of students to write down five gratitudes, hassles, or events over the past week for ten weeks. Guess what happened? The students who wrote five gratitudes were happier and physically healthier. Charles Dickens puts this well: “Reflect upon your present blessings, of which every man has many, not your past misfortunes, of which all men have some.”
20 Pages Of Fiction
There’s a Game of Thrones quote I love that says:
“The man who reads lives a thousand lives before he dies … the man who never reads lives only one.”
We need to read books — real books on real paper — more than ever before. We spent over four hours a day on our cellphones right now. In a world of endless dings and pings we need to get back to single-tasking.
A 2011 study published in the Annual Review of Psychology showed that reading triggers our mirror neurons and opens up the parts of our brain responsible for developing empathy, compassion and understanding. What does EQ help with? Becoming a better leader, teacher, parent and sibling. Another study from Science Magazine in 2013 showed that reading literary fiction helps improve empathy and social functioning. And, finally, a 2013 study at Emory University showed MRIs taken the morning after test subjects were asked to read sections of a novel showed an increase in connectivity in the left temporal cortex. What’s that? The area of the brain associated with receptivity for language. The MRIs were done the next day. Just imagine the long-term benefits of cracking open a book every day.
So those are The Big 7.
We know it’s important to be happy first, and these are the seven ways to get there.
Remember: Just like riding a bike, doing a somersault, or juggling — you can learn to be happier.
Happy people don’t have the best of everything.
They make the best of everything.
Be happy first.
An earlier version of this article originally appeared in Quiet Revolution and Thought Catalog.