Improving Your Capacity for Happiness
Contentment with one’s life and life circumstances can seem to be obviously predicated on practicalities: Do I like my job? Do I feel close to my spouse? Are my children doing well? Can I make ends meet? Do I have enough time to do the things I enjoy? All of these things, even just some of these things, if answered affirmatively, would seem to add up to personal contentment. But what about when they don’t?
Researchers at the University of Wisconsin have come up with some interesting findings on how people can “strengthen the brain circuits associated with happiness and positive behavior, just as we’re able to strengthen muscles with exercise.” Richard Davidson is a psychologist who is at the forefront of this new field called contemplative neuroscience, which is the brain science of meditation. “We all know that if you engage in certain kinds of exercise on a regular basis you can strengthen certain muscle groups in predictable ways,” Davidson says in his office at the University of Wisconsin, where his research team has hosted scores of Buddhist monks and other meditators for brain scans. “Strengthening neural systems is not fundamentally different,” he says. “It’s basically replacing certain habits of mind with other habits.”
Mindfulness expert Dr. Daniel Siegel has discussed how people can actually rewire their brains by learning to focus their attention. Through meditation and mindfulness exercises, people learn to regulate and balance their emotions.
“Contrary to what we used to believe we now know that the brain is open to change throughout the lifespan,” said Siegel in an interview with PsychAlive. “And what some people don’t realize is that not only can the brain change, but we can learn to use the focus of the mind to actually change the connections in the brain itself.”
When we think of the mind as malleable, we become more open to possibilities for change. We can believe in our own capacity to feel better, to become more resilient and to get through tough times. We can strengthen positive emotions inside us by changing our thinking and challenging maladaptive behaviors. Meditation can be very helpful in this journey to clearing our mind of clutter and living free – in essence, becoming who we truly seek to be.
As Siegel says, “How we regulate energy and information flow can be something that we learn to master and become, in many ways, the captain of our own ship, where… instead of just riding things and being passive as a participant [we] just see where the mind takes us. We actually can become empowered to move our minds in a way that is healthy, enriching and creates a much more flexible way of living.”
To find out more about this unique approach to strengthening your capacity for positive emotions, click here.