I am delighted to participate in LifeTwo’s “How to be Happier”Â week with this post. Happiness is still largely unchartered territory for neuroscience. It sounds like a hidden, elusive El Dorado. However, once one follows positive psychology research and Harvard’s Dr. Ben-Shahar’s advice, “The question should not be whether you are happy but what you can do to become happier”, the happiness quest starts to become more tangible and workable according to latest neuroscience research.
We are now going to explore the four key concepts of Dr. Ben-Shahar’s statement — 1) “you”, 2) “can”, 3) “do”, and 4) “happier” — from a neuropsychological perspective.
1) Who is “you”? According to latest scientific understanding, what we experience as “mind”, our awareness, emerges from the physical brain. So, if we want to refine our minds, we better start by understanding and training our brains. A very important reality to appreciate: each brain is unique, since it reflects our unique lifetime experiences. Scientists have already shown how even adult brains retain a significant ability to continually generate new neurons and literally rewire themselves. So, each of us is unique, with our own aspirations, emotional preferences, capacities, and each of us in continually in flux. A powerful concept to remind ourselves: “you” can become happier means that “you” are the only person who can take action and evaluate what works for “you”. And “you” means the mind that emerges from your own, very personal, unique, and constantly evolving, brain. Which only “you” can train.
2) Why the use of “can”? Well, this reminds me a great quote by Spanish neuroscientist Santiago Ramon y Cajal, who said that “Every man can, if he so desires, become the sculptor of his own brain“. Each of us has immense potential. However, in the same way that Michaelangelo’s David didn’t spontaneously appear out-of-the-blue one day, becoming happier requires attention, intention, and actual practice.
Attention: Every second, you choose what to pay attention to. You can focus on the negative and thereby train your brain to focus on the negative. You can