Home Psychology A Neuroscientist Reveals 4 Simple Rituals That Will Make You Happy

A Neuroscientist Reveals 4 Simple Rituals That Will Make You Happy


Alex Korb, a UCLA neuroscience researcher, reveals 4 scientifically proven rituals that will drastically change your life and make you happy.   

There are all kinds of advice on the Internet that tell you the ‘recipe’ for happiness. Some advice is good, some not so good. However, if you are looking for a scientifically proven way on how to make yourself happy – neuroscience has the answer.

A UCLA neuroscientist, Alex Korb, shared his insights on this topic in a book called “The Upward Spiral.”

His recipe for happiness is based on doing these 4 small rituals that can change your life for the better:

1.     The most important question to ask yourself when you are feeling down

It is a normal thing to feel guilty or ashamed about something. This is not necessarily a bad thing since these feelings of guilt and shame activate the brain’s reward center.

According to Alex, feelings of pride, shame, and guilt activate the same centers in the brain including the prefrontal cortex, insula, amygdala, and the nucleus accumbens. The feeling of pride is the most intense one, and it affects all these areas, except for the nucleus accumbens, where guilt and shame prevail.

This is an explanation of why it is so easy to blame ourselves and start worrying. It is because we are activating the reward center in our brain, and worrying gives us the short-term feeling like we are doing something about the problem.

In fact, worrying can increase the activity in our brain’s prefrontal cortex while decreasing the activity in the amygdala. Even though this seems contradictory, it shows that when we feel anxious about some problem, the mere feeling of worry is better than doing nothing, because worrying can give us a sense that we are at least doing something about it.

However, these feelings of guilt, shame, and worry are not long-term solutions. So, the question is: What we should do instead? Neuroscientists all suggest that we should ask ourselves this question: What am I grateful for?

Expressing gratitude can, in fact, affect our brain at biological levels, by raising the levels of dopamine and serotonin in the brain. This is because when we try to remember the things we are grateful for our brain focuses only on the positive aspects of our life.  

Moreover, if you feel like there is nothing in your life to be grateful for, the sole search for things to be grateful about is enough.

Finally, this feeling of gratitude increases the emotional intelligence, and with higher levels of emotional intelligence, it is easier for us to become more grateful and appreciate the little things in life. 

Besides, gratitude not only makes our brain happy – it creates positive feelings in all our relationships.

2.     Label negative feelings

When you are experiencing negative emotions, it is best to give those feelings a name, be it sad, angry, anxious, or depressed – whatever it is that you are feeling.

In a study called “Putting Feelings Into Words,” participants were asked to view pictures of people with emotional facial expressions. As predicted, their amygdala activated when they saw the pictures. However, when they have been invited to name the emotion that they see, their ventrolateral prefrontal cortex went up and decreased the emotional reactivity levels of the amygdala.

In other words, with naming the emotions they saw on the pictures, participants reduced the emotional impact the pictures had on them.

Moreover, Alex found that trying to suppress emotions does not work and can easily backfire on you. When people try to suppress a feeling and look confident and positive, they are always failing. Because while they think that they look fine from the outside, the negative feelings they feel inside can become even more intense when consciously suppressed.  

 The solution? Labeling the emotions you feel can sure make a great difference. Try to use few, simple words when describing the feeling. Being clear and concise can drastically reduce the emotion you are feeling.

3.     Make a decision

Sometimes, making a simple decision can give us a sense of accomplishment and put us at ease. Neuroscience also agrees that making decisions can reduce the feelings of anxiety and worry, and can help us to solve our problems more efficiently.

The process of making a decision includes the intent to make a decision first and then setting the goals through this decision-making process. All these three components activate the brain’s prefrontal cortex positively, thus eliminating the negative feelings we experience. This allows us to change our perception of the world and focus on solving the problem rather than act impulsively.

Therefore, when it is hard for us to make a decision, neuroscientists suggest that we do not need to make a 100% best decision, but it is enough to make a “good enough” decision.  

When we try to make a ‘perfect’ decision, our brain overwhelms and gets confused making us feel like we are out of control. When we opt for ‘the best’ rather than ‘good enough’ decision, the emotional ventromedial prefrontal activity in our brain is very high which leads further to an emotional mess.

Finally, when we make a decision we immediately start feeling like we are in control over our lives, and this feeling of having it all figured out reduces stress and boosts our pleasure levels.

For instance, this explains why it is so hard for some people to go to the gym regularly. When we feel like we should go to the gym, but we have not made that decision voluntarily – our brain does not get the necessary pleasure boost; it feels only stress, and this is not a good way to start with a new habit.

4.     Touch people

Not in a sexual way, but in a loving and understanding way. Meaning, show people you care about them and get these feelings of love and care back. Because, the thing is – we all need to feel loved and accepted by others.

Neuroscience also confirms this to be true. In one study, participants were asked to play a ball-tossing video game. They were told that they are playing against real human players, when in fact they were playing against a computer.

So, when the “other players” (i.e., the computer program) ceased to play nice and share the ball, the real people’s brains responded in the same way as they would if they had experienced physical pain.

This is the reason why physical touch and emotional connection with others is so important when it comes to our happiness.

Touching is very powerful, and a simple hug or a handshake can do the trick.

In fact, some studies have proved that physical touch reduces pain. For instance, one MRI study scanned the brain of a married woman as she was told that she would receive a small electric shock. When she heard this, her brain’s centers of pain and worry increased. However, when she got hold of her husband’s hand, these feelings suddenly diminished.  

Moreover, studies have also shown that hugging produces the oxytocin hormone that is responsible for our happiness.  So, go on, hug someone today and make them happy!

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