Your Brain's Plasticity and Happiness.
February 11, 2009
BE HAPPY ZONE
By Lionel Ketchian
For nine years I have been telling you how to be happy and the benefits of happiness. Now, I can scientifically unveil more secret benefits to your being happy. The new word for you to learn is "neuroplasticity."
The definition of Neuroplasticity is the brain's ability to reorganize itself by forming new neural connections throughout life. Neuroplasticity allows the neurons (nerve cells) in the brain to compensate for injury and disease, and to adjust their activities in response to new situations or changes in their environment. Neuroplasticity is also called brain plasticity or brain malleability.
All those articles I have been writing about your being happy, acting as if you are happy, learning all you can about how to be happy, have a concrete reality to them. The more you do it, the more it is set in concrete. Well, maybe not really in concrete, but in your brain. The more you practice happiness, kindness, compassion, peace and other well being traits, the more you entrench those neural pathways in your brain. You physically create a channel, so to speak, and your alter your brain. The great thing about the neuroplasticity of your brain, is that it becomes easier for you to create the emotions you want to experience.
Our brain is our seat of perception. What the brain will focus on, is what the brain will create as our default behavior, like happiness or unhappiness. The reason happiness is a decision, is that it serves to create the filter for the brain, to understand what to focus on. Our conduct and abilities are fighting for brain position and capacity. Every time we respond with happiness, we create more room in the brain for the capacity to experience happiness. This outcome is called competitive plasticity. To explain this another way, what you think about expands.
We have had many ideas about why we become unhappy or depressed. Some have said that it is brain chemistry that creates certain undesired states of mind. The new science of neuroplasticity may have some very powerful answers, allowing us to become happier and stay happy.
One of those researchers working on the answers to these questions is Richard Davidson a professor of psychology and psychiatry at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He is also the director of the school's Waisman Laboratory for Brain Imaging and Behavior.
Davidson said, "It used to be — not that long ago, in fact — that science was sure that our brains were hard-wired, that our happiness had a set point, that our brains could not regenerate. Now we know that our brains can regenerate, and that they're "plastic," able to create new neural connections not just when we're old, but as we age. We were all taught that the brain is different from other organs in the way it changes over time. We thought the process was one of irrevocable death. We now know that view is definitively wrong. The brain is capable of generating 7,000 to 9,000 cells a day."
Psychology and psychiatry have often focused on the ways in which we aren't happy. Davidson feels we should be able to learn happiness from those of us who can do it better, since, as humans we have widely varying abilities to regulate our emotions.
Since the early 1990's, after being contacted by the Dalai Lama, Davidson has studied the biological effects of what happens in the brains of Tibetan monks, who have practiced meditation techniques for an average of 34,000 hours each.
As a result of studying monks during meditation, Davidson found that "neuroplasticity," (which is the notion that we can enhance brain function through purposeful mental training) can change conventional psychotherapy, which hasn't been proven to have a scientific basis.
The effects of both increased well-being and compassion can be measured in terms of better physical health, Davidson reports. After an eight-week mindfulness meditation course via the Internet, meditators showed increased immune responses compared to the non-meditators. That could mean in the long run, he says, fewer people needing to use our overworked health-care system.
The old adage that states - "Use it or lose it," is true and is exactly what we are talking about. With regards to your happiness the very same thing apply's. The more you use it, the more you have of it. Use your happiness more and you will begin to lose your unhappiness.