Happiness starts in the brain. It is interwoven with our memories, attention, and thoughts. That's why improving your memory for positive things can help you increase happiness. Learn how here.
Did you know that happiness skills are learnable? Yup. And because happiness skills are learnable these skills, just like other skills, rely on the brain. Just like recognizing the color of a flower, or recalling the name of a friend requires the brain to function quickly and efficiently, happiness too requires the brain to quickly and efficiently identify positive information.
Unfortunately, the brain is actually quite lazy. The brain’s goal is to use as little energy as possible and still keep functioning. The way it does this is by learning from our experiences and creating neural networks that make it easier for us to continue doing what we have always done, thinking the way we have always thoughts, and feeling the way we have always felt with little additional effort.
What does positive memory have to do with our happiness?
The bad news is that when we continually engage in thoughts, beliefs, emotions, and behaviors that generate negative emotions, our brains actually get better at generating these negative emotions. And as we get older, the brain becomes more and more fixed and resistant to change.
In short, if we have been sad a lot in our lives, it is easier for our brains to be sad. If we have been anxious a lot, our brains are better at being anxious. And if we have been happy a lot, it's easier for our brains to be happy.
The good news is that the brain is changeable throughout our entire lives. The brain’s ability to change is referred to as neuroplasticity. So the more you practice happiness activities—and strengthen these regions of the brain—the easier it is for your brain to generate happiness. And, over time, you have to exert less and less effort to increase happiness.
Let's try one of these activites now:
Activity: Positive memory
Take a moment to memorize the following words:
Adorable, Radiant, Spirit, Satisfied, Beautiful, Wish, Jewel
Ok, do you have them memorized?
Click the submit button when you have them memorized.
Don't scroll ahead and peek!!!
Now, watch a short (fun) video.
Can you remember the words you memorized?
How did we do?
Thank you to everyone who submitted your responses to this activity! We can now share some common themes that emerged among our community.
In the Berkeley Well-Being Institute community, about half of users found this activity to be easier than they thought and half found it harder. And just a few people did as they expected.
If you were someone who found it harder than you thought, you can likely benefit from improving your positive emotional memory. You can get my Positivity eWorkBook for a collection of positive words to help you build this skill. The more often you memorize positive words, the more you'll train your brain and improve your skill for remembering positive things.
About Dr. Tchiki Davis
Dr. Davis is founder of The Berkeley Well-Being Institute. After getting her PhD in psychology at Berkeley, she started creating online content & programs to boost well-being—some of these have reached more than a million people. As author of Outsmart Your Smartphone, and contributor to Psychology Today, The Greater Good Science Center, and Shine Text, Dr. Davis aims to share her insights on happiness & health with people all across the world. Learn more about Dr. Davis.