Happy Fourth of July, friends! Why are kitchens and the backyard grill always the most popular places to hang out at parties? The sights, sounds, and smells of gathering over food nourish your social brain—and more studies affirm that a nourished social brain is the key to your Happy Brain! Your brain evolved as a social organ and is wired for connection and bonding with others as a strategy for survival. Personally, I find that nothing brings us a deeper sense of connection and comfort than communing and laughing over a joyous meal. It’s why holidays like the 4th of July focus around food, friends, and fun times! Enjoy learning more about the Science of a Happy Brain.
Society teaches us that happiness is a result, something you achieve or gain through accomplishments.
But a growing body of scientific research shows the opposite. Happiness is a state of mind, an attitude that can be nurtured and nourished regardless of external factors.
In fact, science demonstrates that people who are happy first are more successful later on: they have more energy and show more passion. And their enthusiasm is contagious. This is the foundational idea behind ABSRI: happiness matters now.
We unleash the passion of individuals, teams, customers and others by helping them put happiness first. We harness happiness to make a difference in lives, in businesses—and in the world.
The Center for Disease Control (CDC) recently published an alarming report—the rates of suicide, depression, anxiety, and addiction are dangerously on the rise. The overall suicide rate alone in the United States jumped up 30% in the past twenty years, with a spike witnessed across all demographic groups. So what’s the cure to society’s spiraling mental health epidemic? It’s human connection. Here’s how I explain it an excerpt from my upcoming book Science of a Happy Brain.
“There is an unrecognized and pervasive epidemic affecting society today. It’s not a virus, it’s not the flu, but it’s just as contagious and deadly. In the past few decades this disease has proliferated to cause the premature deaths of millions. Chances are you know someone who currently suffers from or has succumbed to this illness. Maybe you’ve witnessed firsthand this disease silently spreading in your families, neighborhoods, schools, and workplaces. No vaccine, no pill can completely immunize you from this disease. What’s this deadly epidemic? It’s society’s Disease of Despair.
“The reasons behind the rise in the Disease of Despair are notably intertwined and complex. But, there appears to be one culprit: the increasing decline of social support systems and social resilience in the United States over the past few decades are disrupting the Social Brain.
“In my personal opinion, one extraordinary—yet still largely unexplored and undervalued—discovery to come out of brain science research over the past few decades is the Social Brain model of human development. It’s the revolutionary idea how the human brain evolved fundamentally as a social organ as a strategy for survival.
“In a world that sees the breakdown of strong communities, our adversarial political climate, the instilled fear of ‘the other,’ our fixation on technology, and cultural discord appear to saturate the despairing brain. The lack of tribe in our world fries the ancient wirings of the Social Brain. The result? Living in age of amplified anger, anxiety, and addiction drives the Disease of Despair and hijacks your Happy Brain.
“The human brain literally evolved for social bonding. It’s now indisputable from science—humans evolved for social connection. Nature reinforces the importance of social bonding through the brain’s release of dopamine to reward you with feelings of pleasure and contentment whenever you participate in any form of pro-social behavior. You feel good when you connect; your Social Brain gifts you with a massive boost of dopamine every time you choose to meet face-to-face with friends over coffee, celebrate the holidays with family, and create space in your life for playtime.”
It’s all the more reason we need to embrace the ancient art of human connection and bring it into the modern world for a more hopeful future.
If you enjoyed this excerpt, be sure to sign up for your pre-order of Science of a Happy Brain coming out later this year.
Becoming a father does more than change your life, it also changes your brain. Parenting definitely transforms you, but more studies indicate that something very interesting happens in the brain when a man becomes a dad. Here’s why:
1. Fatherhood reshapes the brain to let it become more attuned for emotional, social, and cognitive interaction with kids.
2. We all know that pregnancy changes a woman’s hormones, but the same holds true for new dads. Being a father elevates levels of oxytocin—the nurturing and bonding hormone that allows for more empathy and caring.
3. Dad’s brains develop more neurons in regions of the brain that govern memory and spatial recognition—probably to keep a “mental map” of where his kids are.
4. Brains of new dads become more sensitive to a child’s voice and facial recognitions.
As we celebrate Father’s Day and honor all the amazing dads in our life, enjoy learning more how Fatherhood Changes a Man’s Brain.
Sometimes the deadliest and most dangerous battle fought is the war within. That’s precisely the case for the thousands of men and women serving in the military and veterans returning from combat. It’s truly disturbing to know that presently more veterans die from suicide than from combat.
While it’s a tragedy itself knowing that the rates of anxiety, depression, and suicide have been alarmingly on the rise in the past decade, the epidemic of suicide gripping our nation is felt most by those in the armed forces. Veterans are twice as more likely to die from suicide than non-veterans. While the veterans’ suicide rate has spiked in all age groups, men 18 to 34—who have fought in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars—are at the greatest risk.
As someone who lost a family member to suicide when I was young, I know all too well the pain and grief it leaves for those who have lost a loved one in this way. Our society first needs to recognize that mental illness is just as deadly and real as a physical illness. While the scars of the soul might not be as visible as the loss of a limb, depression and trauma equally impact our brain, body, and being. While medication and therapy prove beneficial for those dealing with PTSD and depression, the greatest battle many who contemplate or die from suicide face is the inner war of the soul.
The first line of defense for those gripped in the turmoil of their war within is to remove the stigma and shame that society tends to hold around mental illness and behavioral disorders. Many who endure mental illness can often view it as a moral failure or that they need to “tough it out” on their own.
As I mention in my upcoming book Science of a Happy Brain, humans evolved as social creatures driven for contact and connection. Isolation and internalization can often be two insurmountable hurdles that many face. Seeking help and reaching out is the first step, but we also need to let those facing trauma and depression know that they’re not alone.
As we honor all the brave men and women who have sacrificed their lives for our freedom on this Memorial Day and as we recognize May as Mental Health Awareness Month, everyone one of us has a role to play to help heal those battling the war within.
Wishing your mom a “Happy Mother’s Day” is a greeting she’ll enjoy more than just one day of the year. It turns out a happy mom just might be the key to your own happiness. That’s precisely what a recent study from the UK seems to indicate—if you want to enjoy a lifetime of happiness, make sure your mom is happy. More precisely, the findings suggest that the level of happiness mother’s experience with her partner influences the future happiness of her children.
According to the article Mom’s Happiness Influences Adolescent Happiness, “In families where the mother is unhappy in her partnership, only 55 percent of young people said they are ‘completely happy’ with their family situation compared with 73 percent of young people whose mothers are ‘perfectly happy’ in their relationships.”
Perhaps the biggest revelation from this pioneering study is that when growing up, it’s your mom’s level of happiness—more so than your dad’s—that has the larger influence on your happiness in life. I guess we have yet another reason to be grateful for our mom’s this Mother’s Day. A happy mom is the key to your happy life.
More studies on the brain are beginning to advance a powerful truth: meditation is a powerful medication. Whether it’s treating anxiety, depression, addiction, or a host of other mental health issues, meditation is now proven to change your brain for the better.
A recent New York Times article on “How Meditation May Change the Brain” reports that “those who meditated for about 30 minutes a day for eight weeks had measurable changes in gray-matter density in parts of the brain associated with memory, sense of self, empathy and stress.” Enjoy learning more how meditation builds a better brain in the video below.
The medieval Persian poet Rumi once penned: “When you do things from your soul, you feel a river moving in you, a joy.” What timeless spiritual wisdom has always taught to humanity, current findings in brain science appear to hold truth. Humans are driven to seek joy; we are driven to pursue what enlivens the soul.
At the core of all the world’s religions resides a universal spirituality that advocates how the search for meaning and the seeking of wisdom are a path to achieve happiness. Whether it’s meditation, contemplation, prayer, chanting, or sacred ritual, they provide the portal for discovering the soul and our source for happiness.
Science now affirms this to be accurate. Time magazine reports that a 2015 study—conducted by the London School of Economics and the Erasmus University Medical Center in the Netherlands—found that people who have a regular spiritual practice or belong to a religious group report greater levels of happiness, as well as lesser depression and anxiety than those who don’t
According to the same Time article, “It’s as if a sense of spirituality and an active, social religious practice were an effective vaccine against the virus of unhappiness.” Why would this be the case? As I discuss in my upcoming book Science of a Happy Brain, the four strategies for a Happy Brain are: Comfort, Contribution, Connection, and Compassion. In many ways, spirituality and religion provide comfort to us in times of struggle; allow us to feel a sense of contribution in the world; offer to us the opportunity for connection with others; and help us to cultivate greater compassion in life.
The idea behind why spirituality and religion act as agents for promoting happiness can best be summed up by one word—resilience! The 4 Cs of Comfort, Contribution, Connection, and Compassion help us to achieve resilience in our brain, body, and being. The more we operate from a place of resilience, the more easily it becomes to live from our soul and experience joy in all we do.
Whether it’s a walk in the woods, a swim in the sea or staring at a sunset, nature makes your brain happy. Do you ever wonder why we crave nature so much? The answer goes back into our distant human past that reveals how the human brain evolved. Let’s face it, humans weren’t meant to sit for endless hours a day in cubicles facing a computer screen. The human brain developed surrounded by nature. It’s a concept in science known as “nature connectedness” or “biophilia”—the intimate relationship between nature and your happy brain.
Another emerging field, known as eco-psychology, advocates that though the human brain may be adapting to our fast-paced world, its original function was to respond to the natural world in which we dwelled and evolved over millennia.
A study cited in my book Brain, Body & Being reports, “When study participants were put into fMRI machines and shown images of hectic urban life, the area of the brain, known as the amygdala, showed greater activity. This is the area of the brain that governs the ‘fight-or-flight response.’ When this mechanism runs rampant, we experience heightened levels of stress and anxiety…. In the same experiment outlined above, when participants were shown images of the outdoors, activity in the anterior cingulate—the area of the brain that governs altruism, contentment, and an overall sense of peace—flashed with activity.”
If you’ve been putting off relaxing because you think it requires the expense of a massage or visit to a spa, think again. You may find the same benefits from a short walk along a lake, a tree-lined street or during a romp in the park with your pooch. So what does the all mean for you and your ability to achieve greater health and happiness? Discover the answer in my piece This Is Your Brain on Nature.
If there’s one aspect of human behavior that favored survival, it’s our deep ability to express compassion and empathy toward others. More so than being driven by conflict, the human brain is a social organ that evolved for cooperation and caring. It was this functional strategy that allowed humans to become the dominant species today.
It’s what you’ll discover in my upcoming book Science of a Happy Brain that states, “In our Age of Disconnection, our ability to experience community and connection is the crucial key lacking today in order for you to claim your Happy Brain. Why is compassion so vital for your and society’s ultimate happiness? Without the love and nurturing received from your parents or other adult caregivers, you wouldn’t have survived childhood. A life lacking in the caring and concern from your friends and family is one of despair and dismay. A society that values acts of kindness and charity to all its members fosters a Happy Brain for all.”
There’s a remarkable discovery emerging about your brain that relates to human behavior—compassion is a trait you can cultivate. Just as you train the muscles in your body, it’s possible to build your “compassion” muscle. I find that the opposite of compassion is comparison. While comparison is an attribute that highlights our differences, compassion is a human quality that reveals our similarities. Compassion is the invisible hand that allows you to relate to those around you.
We sadly live in an age that promotes division and discord. Now, more that ever it’s important for children to learn the tools for empathy. A new study finds the link between Arts Education in schools promotes more than creativity, art builds compassion. As a lead researcher in the study states, “Arts learning experiences benefit students in terms of social, emotional, and academic outcomes.” Arts Education is more than a nicety, it’s an absolute necessity for raising happy and healthy kids. Art is one way to engender compassion, which in turn allows you to enjoy the benefits of a Happy Brain. My motto continues to be: Happy brains make happy people. Happy people make a happy world.
We all want to lead a happy and healthy life, but one key to cultivating health and happiness may reside in your brain—more specifically with the power of your breath and learning to control your thoughts. How do the latest research in brain science and behavioral medicine mirror sacred Yoga teachings and timeless meditation practices to cultivate a Happy Brain? As I discuss in my upcoming book Science of a Happy Brain, I define a “Happy Brain” as enjoying balance, longevity, and resilience in an age of anger, anxiety, and addiction.
Yoga is more than mastering physical postures. The 3,000 year-old philosophy of Yoga declares how Yoga is a practice to “calm the incessant turnings of the mind.” Meditation is more than simply sitting in quietude. Meditation is a timeless contemplative practice observed among all the world’s spiritual traditions that brings you into the present moment.
Many ancient healing traditions—such as Yoga, meditation, and Tai Chi—have all recognized that one of the simplest and most effective tools we have to alleviate stress and create more balance, longevity, and resilience is by harnessing the power of your breath.
You may be surprised to learn that recent advances in neuroscience and mind-body medicine offer a deeper understanding of how something as simple and available as the breath is the key for unlocking a Happy Brain! A phrase I’ve always said: “How you choose to breathe, determines how you choose to live. How you choose to live, determines how you choose to heal. How you choose to heal, determines how you choose to be happy.”
So when someone says to you “take a breather,” there might actually be some medical merit to it. I find that one of the easiest ways to achieve greater calm in your day is to focus on your breath for as little as five minutes. As Dr. James S. Gordon, a clinical professor of psychiatry at the Georgetown University Medical School, states, “Slow, deep breathing is probably the single best anti-stress medicine we have.” Doing mindful, calm breathing exercises for just five minutes a day can begin to shift your emotional and mental health. So it just might be that focusing on your breathing, specifically on the quality and state of your breath, could be the key to unlock your potential for a Happy Brain!
WARNING: Slow, deep breathing may cause long-lasting side effects such as increased happiness, optimism, health, calm, and alertness.
If you’re curious to discover how ancient Yoga philosophy and meditation techniques align with cutting-edge brain science research to help you achieve greater health and happiness, join us Sun. Feb. 24th at Loyola Marymount University’s Center for Religion and Spirituality’s workshop on “Yoga & Your Brain.”