“If it bleeds, it leads”. This is a known and horrendous saying in the news media industry. The more horrible the news, the more likely we are to click on it. The more eyeballs they have on their articles (and ads), the more the money rolls in. And so they keep it coming. This shouldn’t be news to you, and I recognize this is also an unsettling way to start a conversation about rewiring the brain for happiness. But stay with me because this point is important.
Without active vigilance and awareness, our eyes, ears and nervous systems are bombarded with bad news, aggressive television, suspense, and drama. Since March 2020, that bombardment of stress and fear-inducing messaging has skyrocketed.
We have a nervous system igniter in the palm of our hand with smartphones available to give us our fear fix every minute of the day. The media we take in – the news clips, TV shows, books we read – are all part of it. You know what else is? The conversations we’re having with our friends, colleagues, and loved ones.
The human species is programmed to be on high alert of threats. That’s how our species has survived – by using our senses and impulses to save us from real-life threats. The intake of a signal, physical or mental, that the brain perceives as life-threatening shuts down our thinking (and our digestive processes, immune system, and other critical functions of the body to keep us healthy), and moves blood to the extremities so we can run. Basically, less critical functions are put aside so the life-saving ones can step up.
Now, however, it’s not the potential for a wild animal attack or an early frost that leaves us feeling like we’re fighting for survival. It’s every headline and ping of our phone or a billboard we walk by.
All of this contributes to how our brains get wired. As brain training lingo goes, what fires together wires together. Information we take in and think about, often in a repetitive nature, begins to hardwire in our brains. Because we naturally avoid anything that challenges the wiring in our brain, and instead the natural inclination is to continue cementing it in and seek out more of it. We are hardwiring our brains for negativity and fear, to function in a state of stress and reactivity.
It becomes cyclical. We get twitchy if we don’t get our dose. That feeling is addictive and we seek out more and more of it to get our fix. What begins to happen is that even when we are in what should be a joyful state, or there is some good news, we bypass it all and let our brains take us to the bit that’s not right. We zero in on where and how we should be scared and worried. We have wired our brains to move to the doom and gloom.
This is why, now more than ever, taking active, intentional action to wire our brains for happiness is so critical. Rising above the chaos is in no way a simple or easy process. Your brain will create every excuse not to do it. You’ve hard wired a pattern that you are now trying to break and the resistance is strong.
Near the end of 2020, I hit my own breaking point. My brain felt absolutely fried. By what felt like divine intervention, I flipped open a book and landed on a page discussing neural retraining of the brain. I took a course and began to practice exercises that support the limbic system of my brain – the bits that deal with the stress response.
I began to actively rewire my brain for happiness. This has felt like a life changer, akin to the experience I had when I first began meditating back in 2006. It has invited me to seek out different information, consume different types of media and create firm boundaries on who I will engage with and the topics I am willing to have conversations about. It has also changed what I share with my subscribers.
Why the excitement about this? Because this is a critical missing component for an optimal healthy and happy lifestyle. Our efforts are wasted if we’re deteriorating our health by allowing our nervous systems, limbic system, brain, heart and body to be hijacked by bad news, violent media, aggressive music, and agitation forming conversations and relationships.
The scary bit is that we don’t see and likely don’t feel this hardwiring as it’s happening. We simply don’t know about it. I didn’t know about it, at least. It’s not like falling off the wagon with other health goals where there are usually physical signs that something’s not right. Hardwiring fear creeps up until you find yourself in a state of exhaustion, anxiety, depression, and general overwhelm. We know practicing loving-kindness, compassion and gratitude are important, but we end up without the strength of mind to pull ourselves out of the fear cycle to see, accept and embrace all the goodness that surrounds us.
Let me tell you, there is a lot. There is so much goodness. So much connection. So much love and compassion and care; of course, you’d never know about it from the evening news. When we make these first steps to retrain the brain for happiness, slowly we can see the glimmer come back. We can come back to the joy inside, and seek it out. We release the addiction we have to checking feeds, looking for the next thing to trigger us and further hardwire the stress response in the brain. We begin to rewire the brain for happiness.
The goal is simple: look for the good. Retrain the brain to seek out the goodness, the generosity, love and care. Focus on that. And slowly but surely we can retrain the brain – and build up those synapses in the brain. Again, the thoughts we think matter. They build these connections in the brain. We need to fire new thoughts and ideas and build up new wiring. When we do that, the old patterns slowly break down and dismantle.
It’s time to rewire for happiness. The change is profound and life becomes a dramatically more kind, and beautiful one to be living. More so, even with all the realities of life, it becomes easier to live.
5 Ways To Start Rewiring Your Brain For Happiness
Mindful Of Your Media
Stop with the bad news. Seriously. Delete your news app, mute or unfollow the fear spreaders or anyone who is in you network that triggers that feeling in the pit of your stomach. From now on, your evening entertainment is limited to nature shows, romantic comedies from the 90s, blooper reels, compilations of pets doing funny stuff, babies laughing, choreographed dancing flash mobs, or anything that is so lulling to your nervous system that basically makes it impossible for you to stay awake. Let that sympathetic nervous system rest and infuse your brain with joy.
Make That Gratitude Practice Real
Yeah, yeah, yeah, you know #grateful this and #grateful that but you have to find a way to make it real and make it easy to be consistent with. The simplest is to grab any old notebook and leave it beside your bed. In the morning write down three things you’re grateful for and at the end of the day, write down 3 wonderful, heartwarming things that happened that day. You can be grateful for a hot shower, seeing your best friend, or your pinky finger. A heartwarming moment could be seeing a little boy holding his mom’s hand. Keep it simple. This is training your brain to pay attention to the goodness that is abundant all around us. The more we tune into it, and take a mental note in the day of the heartwarming moments, the more we will seek them out. We begin tuning our brains to a new frequency.
Add More Heart To Your Day
This is an easy one. I’ve been doing a training with the Heartmath Institute and they teach a technique that is really simple to take on and practice multiple times a day. Basically, all you do is take a few deep and slow breaths, imagining that breath coming in and out from your heart. At the same time, tune into heart-led emotions like care, compassion, love, or gratitude. Feel that emotion in your mind and in your body. Do this 3 to 4 times a day for a couple of minutes. You’ll start to notice that in times when you feel stressed or rushed, you will want to take a pause and take a couple of heart-based breaths. I created a free Heart Coherence Practice that you can join in right here if you’re feeling inspired.
Change The Topic
It is difficult not to fall into step talking about the worst world events broadcasted in the moment, but starting to pay attention to conversations as they head in that direction is a great first step. The reality is that most people don’t really even want to talk about it but like most people, it is probably all they are seeing and reading about and it’s something to share. I like to have a few other topics at the ready so if a conversation turns I will say, “How about we take this in another direction,” and then I’ll ask a question like, What are you reading right now? Have you discovered any new music lately? Have you picked up a new skill in the last few months? Can you imagine where humanity will be in 400 years at this current rate of consciousness elevation? (Okay, this last one is reserved for certain audiences only!)
Change The Company
Joking, but not joking. Recent events of life have highlighted what many of us want more of in our life, and what many of us want less of. I want less obligatory friendships. I want to surround myself with people who are striving to elevate themselves, to keep learning, keep thinking critically and who are also looking for the bright lights in the world. As I have said before, I can’t do my work and best serve in business or in my personal life when I am being dragged down. So when attempts to change conversations to more positive and productive topics fail repeatedly and that leaves not much else, it may be time to move on and focus time on those who are operating on the same level as you.
It starts with Awareness
Rewiring the brain for happiness is a process. It requires vigilance and you’ll experience this as you begin to practice. When we’re tired or feeling stressed it becomes much more difficult to work against the tide of fear. I mean, the human mind and our natural way of seeking out the dangers in our world are how we have survived for this long.
However, there may come a point when we’re programming our brain to believe we’re in a constant state of life or death when it’s just not true. As my friend Veronica Ciandre once said, “We are only one thought away from who we truly are.”
We get to choose that thought. We get to choose who we are. We also get to choose whether we want that glass to remain half empty or on the verge of empty, or half full and only getting fuller and fuller with love, care, compassion, kindness, joy, and happiness.