How to become happier: 5 neuro-life hacks

“Your brain may lie to you about what makes you happy!”

So said three Yale professors who spoke at the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum 2019 in Switzerland. They explained to the audience why, for many, the pursuit of happiness ends in failure and what role neurobiological processes play in this.

“The problem is in our mind. We’re just not looking for what we really need,” said Laurie Santos, professor of psychology at Yale University.

Understanding the processes behind how our brains process happiness is becoming increasingly important in this day and age when many people experience anxiety, depression and loneliness. According to the World Economic Forum’s 2019 Global Risk Report, as people’s daily lives, work and relationships are constantly affected by many factors and are subject to change, about 700 million people worldwide suffer from psychological problems, the most common of which are depression and anxiety disorder.

What can you do to reprogram your brain for a positive wave? Neuroscientists give five tips.

1. Don’t Focus on Money

Many people mistakenly believe that money is the key to happiness. Research has shown that money can only make us happier up to a certain point.

According to a study by Daniel Kahneman and Angus Deaton, the emotional state of Americans improves as wages rise, but it levels off and no longer improves after a person reaches an annual income of $75.

2. Consider the relationship between money and morality

According to Molly Crockett, assistant professor of psychology at Yale University, how the brain perceives money also depends on how it is earned.

Molly Crockett conducted a study in which she asked participants, in exchange for various amounts of money, to shock either themselves or a stranger with a mild stun gun. The study showed that in most cases, people were willing to hit a stranger for twice the amount of money than for hitting themselves.

Molly Crockett then changed the terms, telling the participants that the money received from the action would go to a good cause. Comparing the two studies, she found that most people would rather personally benefit from inflicting pain on themselves than on a stranger; but when it came to donating money to charity, people were more likely to choose to hit the other person.

3. Help others

Doing good deeds for other people, such as participating in charitable or volunteer events, can also increase the level of happiness.

In a study by Elizabeth Dunn, Lara Aknin, and Michael Norton, participants were asked to take $5 or $20 and spend it on themselves or someone else. Many participants were confident that they would be better off if they spent the money on themselves, but then reported that they felt better when they spent the money on other people.

4. Form social connections

Another factor that can increase happiness levels is our perception of social connections.

Even very short interactions with strangers can improve our mood.

In a 2014 study by Nicholas Epley and Juliana Schroeder, two groups of people were observed traveling on a commuter train: those who traveled alone and those who spent time talking with fellow travelers. Most people thought they would be better off alone, but the results showed otherwise.

“We mistakenly seek solitude, while communication makes us happier,” Laurie Santos concluded.

5. Practice Mindfulness

As Hedy Kober, assistant professor of psychiatry and psychology at Yale University, says, “Multitasking makes you miserable. Your mind just can’t focus on what’s going on about 50% of the time, your thoughts are always on something else, you’re distracted and nervous.”

Research has shown that mindfulness practice—even short meditation breaks—can increase overall concentration levels and improve health.

“Mindfulness training changes your brain. It changes your emotional experience, and it changes your body in such a way that you become more resistant to stress and disease,” says Hedy Kober.

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