10 Healthy Steps for a Happy Brain

We all want to be happy.  Fortunately, our brains produce natural happy womanchemicals that can boost our pleasure, motivation, contentment, and joy.

Better still, we can take specific steps in our daily lives to increase these natural brain chemicals.   Let’s get started today with 10 healthful steps for a happier brain.

  • Set Challenging, yet Attainable Goals.  The best goals stretch our abilities a little bit but don’t overwhelm us.   Such goals require a little more focus and effort than something that comes very easily.  However, the brain thrives on attainable challenges and the happiness payoff is great when we begin to master the new skills involved.

  • Break Your Goals into Small Steps.   Reduce your long-term goals into small, daily steps that give you a sense of continuous progress.  Write down your goals for the day or week on a checklist and mark them off as you complete each task.  Each small attainment gives your brain a happiness boost.  
  • Discover Something New.   The brain loves to learn new things. Study a new subject you know nothing about, read a new author, take an exciting class, try a new recipe.  Sit down with someone you think you know well and listen as if you just met him or her.  Your stimulated brain will reward you with fresh insights.
  • Take Time for Reflection and Gratitude.   Allow quiet time in your day for contemplation.  Focus on your body and breath for a few minutes, or watch your thoughts come and go quietly with no attachment to them.   Studies confirm that people who meditate, pray, practice gratitude and reflect on positive memories and achievements have better mental function and happiness throughout life.
  • Exercise Regularly.   Rhythmic, aerobic exercise such as walking, dancing and running release endorphins, brain chemicals that reduce pain and create a natural euphoric state.   Exercise done in the sun or with friends produces even greater endorphin effects.
  • Maintain Intimacy and Social Connections.   Touch, hug, cuddle, make love.   Laugh with friends and loved ones.   Reach out to someone in need.   Healthy relationships reduce stress, fight depression, improve immunity, and create joyful bonds that can last a lifetime.
  • Create a Daily Routine.   Although the mind enjoys novelty, it also requires the foundation of a stable routine to enjoy an overall sense of well-being.   Practice a consistent schedule of regular meals, sleep, exercise, and self-care to increase serotonin in the brain, a chemical largely responsible for feelings of contentment.
  • Enjoy Your Favorite Music.    Anticipation of a favorite song releases dopamine, the brain chemical responsible for immediate pleasure and reward.    Music we love opens the joyful playground of our minds.   Explore different types of music. Vocal music tells a compelling story, while instrumental works evoke subtle feelings beyond words.
  • Stimulate Your Senses.    Enjoy dark chocolate (70% cocoa or more), eat spicy foods, savor the smell of vanilla or lavender.   These simple pleasures increase brain endorphins and reduce stress. Dark chocolate in moderation also improves heart health and reduces cravings for unhealthy foods.  
  • Live Focused in the Moment.    While your long-term goals give your forward momentum, remember that life is actually lived in the here and now.   Enjoy the beauty around you.  Enjoy each step of the journey.    Strive for a balance between immediate reward and future attainment, between novelty and stability, and your happy brain will serve you well.

6 thoughts on “10 Healthy Steps for a Happy Brain

  1. Several years ago, I was very negative about myself. I self-talked about things that devalue me and it was a pretty rough time. I wasn’t happy until someone pointed to me that it’s all in the brain. If you can control the brain, you can control the emotion.

    Things started changing for the better when I discovered a goal to pursue – I wanted to start my own business – and from there, I became more focused on my daily routine. Whatever I do, I dedicate my time and effort towards my business so I guess it takes my mind away from the negative thoughts.

    I am now doing 3 to 4 sessions of Yoga per week; I listen to the sound of waves and crickets on YouTube – I find them very relaxing over contemporary music – and I definitely appreciate the present moment now that my beloved dog has passed away.

    1. Hi, Cathy,

      I know what you mean about self-talk that devalues yourself. I have been guilty of that, and it is a rough road. Your mind has the freedom to move in any direction you chose, but sometimes it is hard to move in self-affirming directions. I think we have to learn to value ourselves and our happiness and learn to speak to ourselves with compassion, the way we would to a beloved friend. Yes, where your mind goes, your emotions will definitely follow.

      Having a goal helps me focus too. I find that staying busy is always an antidote to negative thinking. I’m glad you’re enjoying yoga and nature sounds. Beautiful sounds and nature and exercise help elevate my mood too. I’m sorry about your dog – I know that must be hard – but you are honoring him with your present moment awareness, which is exactly the joyful way that he lived during his time with you. We can learn a lot from our pets.

      Take care!

      Jen

  2. Jen, what a lovely list of ways to keep my brain healthy. My brain never seems to slow down from a full-out rush. Fortunately, I seem to be able to keep it under control at night so I can get a good night’s sleep.

    I do this by getting my eReader out, making sure its light is down low and reading at least one phrase. I think the act of not having to do much, like turning a light on, to read and the dim light puts me to sleep very quickly.

    Challenging goals are my forte and I do some that appear unattainable. Nothing is impossible and this really stretches my imagination. The object for me is to either work it out or realise when I can’t so I can withdraw gracefully!

    Small steps are essential, not only for myself but just in case someone else needs some help on the same sort of goals. A step-by-step list is what I do as I advance and test ideas. This always helped when I had to develop training for my work colleagues.

    Discovery is great also. My opinion is if you aren’t prepared to learn anything new you might as well not be here. And while I think on what new thing to look into, I often lapse into a quiet place of reflection.

    Exercise is my big problem as my back has a pinched nerve. The best thing for this is walking but my back disagrees!

    I agree about the daily routine. Mine seems to be very flexible though. This does keep things interesting. And I have music going while I work. I know many people who can’t do this but I always have. When I was at university, I used to study by laying all my notes on the ping pong table (net removed), turning my music on and walking around the table reciting and reviewing out loud. This worked very well, although the cat thought I was nuts (she sat on the table and rotated her head to keep an eye on me).

    Yes, life is here and now. I always get annoyed with people who believe the future is the younger generation. We are ALL the future until we die, and how we live here and now will determine it.

    Ciao

    Helen

    1. Hi, Helen! I agree that challenging goals are great for the imagination, and if you also make a list of the small steps you plan to take, I think you can make real progress toward something that otherwise would seem unattainable.

      Yes, learning something new is a real thrill. It’s what makes me feel alive. The sense of satisfaction is tremendous and does lend a sense of purpose, especially if it’s something that can improve our lives, even in a small way.

      I work to music too, usually something instrumental and ambient if I need to think, and something more engaging if I’m washing dishes or something that doesn’t require more of my brain.

      I used to spread all my story notes on the bed when I tried fiction years ago. It’s nice to have everything in view all at once sometimes.

      Yes, our every moment determines the future! Good luck with yours!

      1. What a brilliant article, Jen. I’m glad to tick many of your list except breaking goals into smaller goals. Can’t wait to implement this.

        I think living in the moment is important but the most forgotten. Do you have any tips on how to remind ourselves more often to live focused in the moment?

        1. Hi, Vince! I’m so glad you are already implementing most of these in your life. I think one of the best ways to live focused in the moment is to put our attention on our small physical actions, such as walking across a room, lifting a cup to our lips, and the feeling of our chest rising and falling as we breathe. These actions are actually very satisfying if we let them fill our attention and allow a feeling of gratitude for every small thing to suffuse our beings. Thanks for reading!

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