Rewiring your brain for happiness

HealthRewiring your brain for happiness

By Dr. Attia Anwer

If you really want to be happy for the rest of your life, you have to change your thinking process.


We all are wired in a certain way. Our brain develops neural connections mostly in our early life. These neural connections are developed in how we connect and perceive our surroundings.

We can find our child circuits and rewire them into better helpful circuits. Contrary to popular belief, our brain is not our biggest advocate. It does not try to make us happy or thriving, rather it is more focused on survival. Some of our connections are based on survival and a few other things that are not useful for our adult life. We need to change certain patterns for happy living. Sometimes unexpected or very traumatic things happen in life that change the life and mind of a person forever in a positive direction.

Fortunately, this is not necessary for positive thinking. Research shows we can rewire our brains by certain exercises and use positive psychology for our betterment.

We are born with a lot of neurons. These neurons are present at birth, but they are not connected to each other. Connections are developed when we interact with the world. That is good in a sense, that the human child is adapted to the world around him. Other mammals are born independent and with connections that are the same in every era. So child develops connections as he sees and experiences the world. These connections then become familiar pathways for adults. These are beaten-track and easy to follow. Some of these patterns may be unhealthy for adult survival. But changing them takes a lot of effort. Because beaten tracts, how difficult they may be feel easy to follow. Making new tracts seems very difficult. But finding them and repeating them again and again makes it easy to follow.

How can we rewire our brains? Being present is one of the ways, that we can reset our mind. But the best thing for feeling happy is to practice gratitude. What you have to do is either write three or five positive things every day, that you are thankful for that day. You have to repeat that continuously for twenty-one days. You can write them or you can say them loudly. And after a few days, your mind will start focussing on positive things in the world. That will be a big step in the improvement of your mental health. Our brain, which is naturally wired to see the negative in each situation will develop the capacity to appreciate things.

Since as a primate, our brain is focused more on dangers. That was important for our initial survival as a species. Being always in survival mode will bring a lot of stress, cortisol, and diseases associated with it. So if you make a habit of finding positive things in your life, gradually your brain focuses more on good things in your life. That is how you can make happiness.

Finding faults in everything comes naturally to us. But if we think about how blessed we are as compared to our ancestors. Our ancestors were under constant threat from lack of food, diseases, wild animals, and the environment.

Antibiotics and health care which we experience today were beyond dreams. But our brain is still in survival mode and does not find good in anything. It has made an imaginary world in which you are at the top, as a standard of your happiness. When you reach there, the brain starts looking for something else. And we are used to social comparison and find other people having a better life than us.

What people usually think, or what the traditional way of thinking was that you have to suffer and work hard and you will be successful and then happy. However, research shows that this is not a sequence of events. First, you have to be happy and at peace then your efforts will be fruitful and you will achieve your goals which may or may not increase your happiness. Ancient wisdom has stressed this a lot first you have to make your soul at peace and then everything will get into order. We have learned as a human race, that suffering is necessary for success.

Life is a race and you have to push yourself hard. But in the last forty, or fifty years’ a lot of research has been done on the human brain. We are quite sure by research that; it does not work this way. It is less productive when you are stressed. If you are relaxed, you can use your potential in a better way.

For happiness, the brain can be rewired by practicing gratitude every day. When you go to bed or anytime during the day you think about three things for which you can be thankful for. Write them in a notebook or say them out loud. You have to do it daily. It usually takes twenty-one days to one month for your brain to pick automatically positive things from the world. Brain learns to concentrate more on positive aspects than on negative things. So you become less miserable and more productive by this attitude. This will be a move towards living at ease or attaining long-term happiness.

After being at ease you can further rewire your brain for more productivity. A few steps that you can take is occasionally using your wrong hand, which will develop new circuits in the brain. You can also do this by learning a new language or by simply increasing your vocabulary. New areas of the brain are activated in this way. Playing chess is also recreational and good for your brain. If you are interested, you can have meaningful connections with other like-minded people in this way.

We can choose to develop new habits. Look at your life and reflect on what is your most destructive or irritating habit. Like if you are obsessed with organizing things. Loosen yourself a bit and do it every day. If you are a messy person, start being a bit organized. You have a very sedentary lifestyle. Start moving a bit every day. For the development of a new pathway or rewiring of your brain, you have to repeat the pattern for more than one month without missing a day. Then it will become beaten tract and your habit.

Repeated use of neurons or experience rewires your brain in five ways. Experience insulates or makes them strong, they become faster in conducting electricity. Synapses that we use repeatedly are better at conduction. So they are used more easily. If we do not use certain neurons, they will degenerate. Neurons which are used more, develop new connections. Receptors which we do not use, will atrophy. So feeling that we constantly feel, becomes easy to feel so if we experience happiness more our happy receptors will thrive. If we always find faults in the world, our happiness receptors will degenerate.

So good news is that we can make efforts to be happy and positive and our brain listens to us more than we think.


The author Dr. Attia Anwar is a consultant family physician with a postgraduate degree from the Royal College of GP UK. She is a strong advocate of health and well-being and wants patient participation in decision-making regarding health.The author Dr. Attia Anwar is a consultant family physician with a postgraduate degree from the Royal College of GP UK. She is a strong advocate of health and well-being and wants patient participation in decision-making regarding health.

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