When sadness strikes, it’s easy to feel powerless over it. But when you know how your brain works, you can turn on more pleasant feelings. Sadness is natural; our brain releases both happy and unhappy chemicals because both have a job to do.
Happy brain chemicals turn on in short spurts when you see a way to meet a need. Then they turn off and you have to do more to get more. This is nature’s way of motivating us to take steps that meet needs. But it’s complicated. The brain adjusts to what you have and takes it for granted, so “new and improved” is what it takes to stimulate happy chemicals. Frustrating! But it’s the dilemma that confronts everyone who has ever lived. When a happy chemical spurt ends, unhappy chemicals get your attention. They make you feel like your survival is threatened, even though you are not thinking that consciously. Our brain gives bad feelings a higher priority than good feelings because it’s easier to survive the loss of a reward than it is to survive a predator attack.
It doesn’t take much to turn on the bad feeling of cortisol because you hear the clock ticking on your life as soon as your attention is not engaged elsewhere. A cortisol spurt tells your cortex to look for evidence of threat. This is how our ancestors figured out which way to run when they smelled a predator. That triggers more cortisol which triggers more scanning for threat.
It’s easy to get into a bad loop. When you’re in this loop, you may think your life is awful while everyone else is having a great time. This habit of keeping score doesn’t help. What helps is knowing your power over your brain. The electricity in your brain flows like water in a storm, finding the paths of least resistance. You can redirect your electricity toward new paths to turn on your happy chemicals in new ways. Fortunately, if you repeat a new choice, a new path will build and your electricity will flow there more easily.
So choose a positive new thought or behavior, and repeat it without fail for 45 days. All it takes is spending one minute on your positive trail, three times a day. For example, tell yourself, “I have met my needs before and I will meet my needs today.” Then, spend the minute looking for specific examples of your success at meeting your needs and do it three times a day. Don’t waste time debating the pros and cons of your life. You have the rest of the day to focus on the negative, so invest three minutes helping your brain see the positive. Your new path will build, and on Day 46 you can choose another positive feeling to wire in. You can enjoy blazing trails in your brain instead of taking old roads that lead where you don’t want to go.
At first it will feel false and foolish. You may think it’s not true. You may think other people don’t have to do this and you shouldn’t have to either. But this is exactly what happy people do, and you have the power to do it too. If you feed your brain new experiences, you will give your electricity a new place to flow!