By Mirel Ketchiff | June 2015
Though you may swear it’s the case at times, you’re not held hostage by your emotions. New research has figured out ways to naturally engineer positivity and make the good feelings last.
BLISS IS SOMETHING PEOPLE are wired to feel only fleetingly, which explains a lot about our propensity for stress. “From an evolutionary perspective, your brain wants to keep you safe from threats, so it pays more attention to negative thoughts and events than positive ones,” explains psychologist Erin Olivo, Ph.D., the author of Wise Mind Living.
But that can cheat us out of the exhilaration that enjoying a truly great mood can bring. Now, however, scientists are finding there are little ways you can train yourself to override that primitive part of the brain and grow uplifting moments into something powerful and enduring. Here’s how.
Savor the wait
Anticipation is a happy feeling. Expectations for an upcoming vacation or a special night out cause you to daydream, plan, and talk about the event, which build the thrill, according to researchers at Cornell University. You get a psychological bump that is almost as good as the joy you feel during the experience.
So you need to milk that prelude: Take time to think about the positive things you’ve got coming up in the next few months. But don’t stop there – visual reminders will add extra excitement, studies show, so jot the events on a wall calendar or plug them into your phone, along with little thoughts and actions that lead up to the event. Daily happy hits.
Move even more
Studies continue to prove that exercising your body does amazing things for your brain, providing more than just the satisfaction you feel after a workout. “Physical activity is the surest way to enhance a good feeling,” says Emiliana Simon-Thomas, Ph.D., the science director of the University of California, Berkeley. Here’s why: your brain gets flooded with neurotransmitters like dopamine and norepinephrine, which take your mental state from “feeling fine” to “top of the world.”
Exercise also helps prevent you from dwelling on anything that might bring you down, busting stress in the process, Olivo says. And although the workout ends, that relaxed, elated frame of mind lasts longer.
You’ve heard it before, but we’ll say it again: Find a way to get your heart pumping for at least 30 minutes a day.
Be extra nice today
Do something for someone else, like treating a coworker to coffee or bringing a cupcake to a friend who could use a pick-me-up. These are small gestures, yes, but according to research from the University of Houston, such specific do-good actions offer a more enduring mood lift than loftier, broader aspirations like “Be kind to others.” Make a habit of following through on one sweet move a day and you’ll be the one to win out.
But be bad too
Intentionally acting out in little ways delivers a thrill in the moment and will make your mood impervious to doubts that might crop up later, says Robert Leahy, Ph.D. Doing something you know you shouldn’t forces you to confront the consequences–and to see that they’re not as dire as you imagined they would be. As a result, you’ll be able to handle stress without losing your good mood.
Misbehave at least once a week. Things like ditching a not-crucial obligation at the last minute or being the loud one at a posh party count. Just don’t default to the same bad behavior repeatedly or it will quickly lose its power.