brain training / Buddhism / Conscious living / Gratitude / Happiness / Health and Wellness / Inspiration

Train Your Brain to Become Happier

Protected by Copyscape Online Infringement Detector Depression has played a major role in my life since I was a child. There have been many times I had to struggle to make the happiness choice minute by minute, hour by hour, and day by day.

Granted in some cases of depression therapeutic intervention may be necessary.  But I am unable to take pharmaceutical drugs due to allergic responses so I have to rely on keeping my physical health and mental health in balance through alternative means.

Let’s suppose we understand what happiness is.  Then how do we find it? Many TED Talks speakers have been engaged in this quest for years. During the holidays I made the time to watch just 5 videos and as they informed and inspired me I want to share them with you.

Barry Schwartz: The paradox of choice (video)

simplifyBarry Schwartz is a psychologist takes aim at a central tenet of western societies:  freedom of choice.  He outlines how unlimited choice is paralyzing and exhausting to the human psyche.

Too much choice undermines happiness. What it leads to is setting unreasonably high expectations, questioning our choices before we even make them, and blaming our failures entirely on ourselves.

It’s a paradox.  Our abundance of choice in Western countries is leading to our unhappiness, any policy limiting choices would be considered oppressive and average person would reject it out of hand.

Schwartz thinks that’s why a less choice might do us all a lot of good.

“The secret to happiness is low expectations.”

Dan Gilbert: The surprising science of happiness (video)

synthesizeDaniel Gilbert shows how poor predictors of what will actually make us happy we are.  In the same way that optical illusions fool our eyes – and fool everyone’s eyes in the same way – Gilbert argues that our brains systematically misjudge what will make us happy. And these quirks in our cognition make humans very poor predictors of our own bliss.

Human beings have something that we might think of as a “psychological immune system.” A system of cognitive processes, largely non-conscious cognitive processes, that help them change their views of the world, so that they can feel better about the worlds in which they find themselves.

“Natural happiness is what we get when we get what we wanted, and synthetic happiness is what we make when we don’t get what we wanted. … In our society, we have a strong belief that synthetic happiness is of an inferior kind. I want to suggest to you that synthetic happiness,  is every bit as real and enduring as the kind of happiness you stumble upon when you get exactly what you were aiming for.”

Carl Honore: In praise of slowness

Carl Honore, a Canadian journalist is best known for his advocacy of the Slow Movement. His book In Praise of Slowness dissects our speed-obsessed society and celebrates those who have gotten in touch with their “inner tortoise. ”

slowThe Slow philosophy is not about doing everything at a snail’s pace. It’s about seeking to do everything at the right speed. Savoring the hours and minutes rather than just counting them. Doing everything as well as possible, instead of as fast as possible. It’s about quality over quantity in everything from work to food to parenting.

“By slowing down at the right moments, people find that they do everything better: They eat better; they make love better; they exercise better; they work better; they live better.”

Matthieu Ricard on the habits of happiness

Biochemist turned Buddhist monk Matthieu Ricard been the subject of intensive clinical tests at the University of Wisconsin, as a result of which he is frequently described as the happiest man in the world.

train your brainAfter training in biochemistry at the Institute Pasteur, Matthieu Ricard left science behind to move to the Himalayas and become a Buddhist monk — and to pursue happiness, both at a basic human level and as a subject of inquiry. Achieving happiness, he has come to believe, requires the same kind of effort and mind training that any other serious pursuit involves.

“Mind training is based on the idea that two opposite mental factors cannot happen at the same time. You could go from love to hate. But you cannot, at the same time — toward the same object, the same person — want to harm and want to do good.”

Michael Norton: How to buy happiness

generosityMichael Norton is an Associate Professor of Business Administration in the Marketing Unit and Marvin Bower Fellow at the Harvard Business School. He shares fascinating research on how money can, indeed buy happiness — when you don’t spend it on yourself. Listen for surprising data on the many ways pro-social spending can benefit you, your work, and (of course) other people.

“The specific way that you spend on other people isn’t nearly as important as the fact that you spend on other people.”

Here’s the Good News

The good news is that these days I’m celebrating my mind training success.  Don’t get me wrong though, I do know I haven’t arrived. But it feels good to wake up and be ready to face the day smiling, instead of wanting to pull the covers over my head and check out until tomorrow.

You can simplify, synthesize, slow down, train your brain and practice generosity to become happier.

You can be happy even when

  • people have disappointed, betrayed or even defamed you.
  • someone gets upset when you don’t join in their misery.
  • nobody seems genuinely supportive of your goals and dreams.
  • you are falling short of your high expectations.
  • nothing runs smoothly, on time or according to your plans.

You can cultivate happiness by

  • living simply in accord your core values;
  • affirming your self-worth;
  • seeding your mind with positive thoughts;
  • washing regret away with compassion;
  • fertilizing creativity with love;
  • celebrating growth;
  • giving more to others;
  • expecting less.

Related posts:
Enjoying Life Every Day
Beyond Fear: Creativity
 Letting Go, Moving On, and Growing
Learn to Include More Humour in your Life
The Power of the Smile
Happiness is
Seeking Happiness: Focus on Relationships
Hope and Happiness as Skillful Means

18 thoughts on “Train Your Brain to Become Happier

  1. I’m also struggling to make the happiness choice, TT. But right at this minute I can’t begin to make a start until I’ve budged that solid chunk of misery that sits heavy on my chest. I need a good cry first, if only it would come. I can only admire your courage and determination.

  2. hi timethief
    Thanks so much for these links which i have bookmarked.I also suffer from depression (i’m in an episode right now) and like you i can’t take meds because of allergic responses due to my M.E.
    I practise mindfulness which helps a bit but i probably need to look more at brain training. I have a copy of The Buddha Brain which i keep meaning to read!
    One thing that does work for me is to go into nature – a beautiful sunrise or sunset, full moon or the scent of a pine forest can life my spirits more than anything else.
    Glad to ‘know you’ on here and thanks again.

    • Dear Helena,
      M.E. CFS and fibromyalgia are all multi-system diseases and as we both have multiple drug and chemical allergies (Multiple Chemical Sensitivity Syndrome) not being medicated means we have an opportunity to face our symptoms head on without masking them. I`m choosing to view that reality as a positive.

      Life is such a struggle for depressives like us but it`s important not to give up, give over or give in to negative thinking. I do a lot of blue sky meditation as well as trying to remain in a mindful state at all times. I have employed just about every technique known to keep depression at bay or put the run on it over the course of decades now.

      I find that viewing negative thoughts as clouds passing through an otherwise blue sky helps me. Like you I find simply going outdoors and appreciating nature is healing so it`s at the top of my list when I`m feeling low. Even being outdoors under an overcast sky is healing for me because I spot things that lift my spirits like plants and animals and birds and they take my focus off negativity.

      I`m far too serious minded and I find that singing and dancing even with my vacuum cleaner spontaneous and painting abstracts, rather than getting caught up in perfectionism which for me is evidenced in any other style of painting is also healing. I haven`t blogged much on art therapy but I do a lot of artwork. Artwork that`s not for sale. Art work that is a release and that I accumulate until there`s too much clutter and then I burn it. That too may sound odd but burning it is also a release because what I frequently depict is an emotional stew.

      From time ti time when negative thoughts arise rather than ignoring them I write them down in my private journal and then refute them until I can laugh out loud at them. Then I burn them.

      When it comes to becoming healthy and whole, my greatest ally has always been my best friend ie. my partner. I am blessed with a supportive relationship and I give thanks for being in the company of a positive thinker like him and the other positively focused people in my life every day.

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  4. Thank you for a wonderful post. It’s got a lot to think about. Like you I have had depression for more years than I can count, but I can’t take anit-depressants either so I have to mostly rely on my own brain training. It really does work, and I can tell I’ve gotten much better at it the longer I’ve done it. I can change my moods quite well most of the time tho I still have those rough days. I’m so glad these things are working well for you. A very inspiring post, as usual. And thanks for visiting me too.

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  6. These look like fabulous videos! I’ve heard of some of these names and ideas, but not all of them. I’m so delighted that these approaches are working for you. I’m a big believer in training the mind.

    • Hi Sandra,
      It’s so good to see your gravatar here. I’ve been busy moving Twitter followers from one account to another and starting a newspaper.

      We have both shared Matthieu Ricard’s TED Talks video on our blogs previously but I do find that I return to it. That’s what I did during the holidays when I felt myself sinking just a little. Once I watched it again I began to wonder how many other TED Talks speakers had addressed the subject of happiness. I watched 4 more over the course of 4 more days and commitment to mind raining deepened.

      Thanks you so much for the inspiring posts you publish. I derive so much food for thought and healing from them.

  7. Hi TT, I so love reading your blogs on personal development. My vote goes for more of these and less of the techie blogs. However, I know you have to earn an income. :-) Two of these TED talks I haven’t seen and I’ve bookmarked them to watch later. There is one wonderful TED talk on happiness that you might have seen but haven’t included in your Top 5, its about the Happiness Advantage by Shawn Achor. shortlink

    The simple message of Shawn’s talk is that we work hard for success, believing it will lead to happiness, when all we are doing is pushing happiness further away from us. A bit like a donkey following a carrot. Shawn argues that by reversing the equation and focusing on being happy we, inadvertently, end up both successful and happy. The bit of magic that’s behind the scenes is, its not what happens to us that makes us happy or sad, but how we view what happens to us. He gives a five point plan to improve our happiness ‘glasses’. If I was to add two of his five points to your list they would be, gratitude and meditation.
    Thanks for a wonderful post. Jerry

    • Hi Jerry,
      Thanks you so much for that link. I watched the video twice this week and I really appreciated what Shawn had to say.

      “The bit of magic that’s behind the scenes is, its not what happens to us that makes us happy or sad, but how we view what happens to us.”


      “If I was to add two of his five points to your list they would be, gratitude and meditation.”

      I agree with you as I have both a meditation practice and a gratitude practice. :)

  8. Paragraph 1 (as I quoted below), works for me when definitely other onlookers are strangers.

    Cultivating happiness naturally happens especially with first 2 bullet points, which then feeds some of the other subsequent cascading waterfall from a a glacier. :)

    “You can be happy even when

    •people have disappointed, betrayed or even defamed you.
    •someone gets upset when you don’t join in their misery.
    •nobody seems genuinely supportive of your goals and dreams.
    •you are falling short of your high expectations.
    •nothing runs smoothly, on time or according to your plans.

    You can cultivate happiness by

    •living simply in accord your core values;
    •affirming your self-worth;
    •seeding your mind with positive thoughts;
    •washing regret away with compassion;
    •fertilizing creativity with love;
    •celebrating growth;
    •giving more to others;
    •expecting less.”

    • Hi there,
      Thank you. When I learned how to take responsibility for my thoughts I knew life is a gift. I knew giving and receiving empathetic love was my true nature — our true human nature.

  9. I’ve been getting to know my brain for decades. (My work prompts me to learn from brain research too.) And I’m better off for it. One simple example I have found about the paradox of “abundance of choice” is going to the market to shop for groceries. I have found it increasingly overwhelming over the years — what was once a simple and enjoyable chore has become overstimulating and time-consuming. Thanks for such a thought-inspiring post.

    • Hi there,
      Last week my girlfriend and I went shopping for some pharmacy items. As we already had to be on the big island in the city we went to a big drugstore. All we both needed was spray in hair conditioner for normal hair. Well, there were two long aisles with five rows of shelves on each side full of hair products. After 18 minutes of fruitless searching we left muttering words children ought not hear. So here we are this week without what we need. The only redeeming factor is that the weather is overcast and there’s enough moisture in the air that we aren’t looking like poodles in need of a groomer appointment.

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