Using science to explain how our world ticks has always interested me. I am the type of person who likes to see exactly how things work and why they work the way they do. I had never considered happiness to be a topic that could be explained in such a factual manner, but there is a fairly simple way of helping ourselves to see the world in a better light.
I recently read a blog post on happiness that illustrates how the brain can develop a better connection with positive thoughts and minimize the occurrence of bad ones. In a scientific way, it explains a basic attitude I have had for a while but could never really explain in detail: I am the only one who can control the way I feel about the things that happen in my life. There may be stimuli that evoke happy and sad emotions, but it is up to me to determine how to react. No person or thing can force the reaction.
Evidence suggests that this is much more than just a conscious mental matter. There is a physical mechanism inside our brains that creates thoughts, and it is influenced by those who surround us.
Basically, the science says that synapses, which produce thoughts, fire signals to each other inside our brain, and that this physical structure actually changes as it is used. Two parts of the synapse move closer together, making it easier to connect. As a result, the more we engage a particular thought, the more this reaction tends to happen over the opposing one.
For example, if you try to laugh every time your son spills his plate of food on the floor, you are likely to develop a better sense of humor towards things like that versus getting immediately angry. Making that effort is important, but it is not the only thing that physically shapes our brain.
Observing how people around us operate changes the physical nature of our brain in the same way and can influence how our minds perceive reality. If you spend a lot of time around a parent who consistently loses his cool and is always negative, your mind can be shaped by that experience and lead to similar reactions.
When we see someone experiencing an emotion (whether anger, sadness, happiness, etc.), our brain “tries out” that same emotion to imagine what the other person is going through. And it does this by attempting to fire the same synapses in your own brain so that you can attempt to relate to the emotion you’re observing. This is basically empathy. – Steven Parton
This made me think about how my children observe what I do and how their minds are being physically shaped by the example I show them. This is not news, we all know kids mimic us at times and they certainly learn our patterns of behavior over time. The interesting thing is, there is something real that happens every time we make a good move, and “positive training” of our mind can form an overall positive outlook on life.
I have always believed that you have to be honest with yourself. Some situations are terrible, and we cannot be happy all of the time. I think it is important to acknowledge this fact, but we certainly cannot let those things ruin us. There is a way to move on and learn lessons that will better us.
Besides the interesting science I learned from this analysis, I took away two important lessons. First, I really need to consider who I surround myself with. Second, I do not want to be that person who is forming other people’s minds for the worse!
There is much more to be said about how all of this works. If you are interested, you could start by having a read at the Psych Pedia blog.
By Brian Wilson
Brian is the father of three children. He teaches golf and coordinates a Zurich Dads’ group in his spare time. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Illustration by Laura Munteanu
Laura has studied Journalism and Advertising, and has been working as a journalist and an illustrator. She has been illustrating for magazines, websites, charity and diverse campaigns. She lives in Zurich with her husband and seven-year-old daughter.