In search of Happiness in the Brain and Mindfulness in Life

July 21,2017

Soaking in the Good and Weeding out the Bad.

Life is a wonderful journey of learning to become more of who we are, or more importantly the person we want to be – our higher self.

Life gives us experiences and relationships that come into our lives to teach us more about who we are and more importantly what we have to still learn. This can happen in many amazing and positive ways. Also, it can be bitter sweet, in the most positive and difficult ways, because some of our life’s most important lessons have to be learnt the hard way.

You probably have had those times in your life where you seem to just get lost in some emotional stress; pressure at work, a relationship breakdown, financial worries. One of life’s little learning opportunities as they say, “a chance to grow” – all the positive spin on basically really negative periods in your life!

Situations occur, where you must learn to stay above the line, perform under pressure and still see the future happiness and positivity you have and are creating in your life. When the mind is lost in a ‘not so positive’ reaction, yes you may have the self-awareness to watch it happening thinking ‘what are you doing?’ and then, you go there any way – why?

Let’s reboot and get back to being positive thinking, responding and seeing all that’s great in our life.

The key, of course is not to go there in the first place, obviously, but the second strategy is ‘how long do I want to dwell in this state?’

But what can you do when you’re not in that positive mind space and you have ‘lost it’ – and all those great, positive, wonderful, Zen statements are sent to you or you read them, like “be here now- love the present” and you are not quite feeling like this- then what? Your mind will want to drag you back to a past incident, that replays in your head like an old movie or a mental picture – that you can’t stop seeing.

I think most of us have been in that negative place, at least once in our life. And it is very difficult, as you can become stuck in the negativity and lose sight of what is so good in your life.

So why is happiness more elusive and negativity so pervasive?

Why do we look at those we are close to, friends, family, children and instead of seeing and appreciating the wonderful qualities they have, we react to one little thing negatively?

Why is it that there can be so many good, positive experiences and people in our life and we focus on the one thing that isn’t?

Can we go to bed feeling appreciative, grateful and loving? Or focused on the one negative aspect or situation in our life? Why do we give so much importance and attention to the negative and miss all the positives? Negativity seems to stick like Velcro, yet the positives just slip away like Teflon.

How do we take in more joy, love and positivity, and lessen our constant mental chatter on doubt, fear, worry and anxiety? The negatives so often focus on what we can’t change because it’s already happened, or we project future situations that have not even happened yet, which only spreads further fear and doubt.

Our survival instincts want to kick in and help us, by using the fight or flight mechanisms. Yes, at the beginning of time, there were a lot of animals that wanted to eat you, which provides a good enough reason to have a high alert system for watching out for what could go wrong! A little part of the brain called the amygdala would send a message to the hippocampus to send down some powerful neurotransmitters like cortisol to help with some powerful stimulation to run or fight, the result was energy. However, we do not have animals chasing us, or the need to defend ourselves and survive in that same way.

Staying in a reactive mode for too long can cause us to lose our sense of inner self-esteem, contentment and balance. Do that once a month and there is no problem but if you do that seven times a day you have cortisol overload and a big dose of anxiety that focuses on all the negative things in your life. Emotionally, there is an experience of grasping, clinging, frustration and heartache, which becomes the overall experience.

This is all driven by fear and a sense of insecurity, we trigger the nervous system into this state of fear. Nothing stays the same in this world, unfortunately.

People change, circumstances change, love changes, employment changes, the world is always changing. There is nothing totally stable in the world. Fear of change sets in and stops us from viewing the positive experiences and products of change. This can have a long-term effect on our health. A reactive stress state has powerful, negative effects.

In your body, you gradually accumulate the burdens of reactive stress and negative experiences, which is called an allostatic load. This then increases inflammation, weakens your immune system and wears on your cardiovascular system. The effect in the brain is an atrophy of neurones in the prefrontal cortex -that part of the brain that is responsible for your executive function and moral reasoning.

That doesn’t mean we only focus unrealistically or ignore reality but when we see only the negative parts of change, we become stuck and not able to see the lessons in change and hold on to past negativity. This is not easy, to entertain positivity, joy and happiness if we are overpowered by some negative focus, but we can begin taking in the little things we observe that are good and positive around us.

It takes practice to change focus and take in the good, focus on what makes a difference in our life. Consciously choosing to let this positivity in to our mind, to be more mindful, to stop, pause and breath.

To be grateful in any part of our life, to not skim over all the positivity and be totally absorbed in the people and things that do bring us happiness. Yes, once we accept that life is not always easy, but it’s more about causing us to grow and learn, we become more resilient and more loving of ourselves and others. We need to look for ways to build our positive, happy and resilient mindset through new routines and habits that allow us to take in more love and joy.

Simple steps like going to bed earlier and waking up to walk in the morning sunrise when the mind is quiet and settled, and can absorb more beauty into our mind.

Learn to meditate and take in inner quietness and stillness, peace, deep rest and rejuvenation which gradually builds a resilience in the face of pressure and change.

It’s strange but true to think that we don’t laugh because we are happy, we are happy because we laugh. So, go and be totally out there. Happiness can always be found, if we are actively looking for it, and we open our eyes. Slow down to speed up and see how there is so much more to our life than what we think. Take daily breaks, walk in the sun, say hi to those in the office, tell a joke.

Happiness is in our nature, we just need to give it more support in our life and appreciate and absorb more of it into our lives. Tend the flowers and lessen the focus on the weeds.

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