There are many things that make us feel bad. We may feel jealous, or angry, or bitter, and even though these three feelings are often grouped together, they have different meanings. Korb discovered that identifying a feeling made the impact of emotion softer. Participants in one study were asked to look at images of faces, each expressing a different emotion.
The participant took the emotion simply by looking at the image, which increased the activity in the amygdala. However, when each of the participants identified what emotion was being shown, activity in the amygdala decreased further. Why? Because understanding the exact emotion has reduced the ability of emotion to take over. In other words, recognizing how you feel helps defeat the bad emotions.
2. WE SHOULD LEARN WHAT HAPPENS WHEN WE FEEL LESS WELL, AND WHY
Alex Korb’s research, detailed in The Upward Spiral, can tell us how we can counter our worst enemy, our brain. We often have the impression that our brain is against us, especially when we feel tired, depressed or lacking motivation. To understand why, we need to know a little more about our minds. Shame, pride and guilt are all emotions that produce activity in the same areas. Generally, satisfaction is the strongest emotion in these areas, but by activating the core accumbens, shame and guilt take over our pride.
This area of the brain is also known as a reward center, which means that when we let the bad feelings take over, it seems oddly good. It’s the same principle when you feel nervous. Anxiety is a short-term solution, and it targets the parts of the brain that calm us down. It also allows us to be proactive about our problems.
In times of anxiety, it is very common to use antidepressants and other medications. But is there a way to overcome this without drugs? Just ask us what we are grateful for. Gratitude helps to release dopamine and serotonin into the brain, both of which improve our mood, and are stimulated by drugs like Prozac. In other words, we can achieve the effect of these drugs simply by seeking what makes us grateful.
3. WE SHOULD TAKE THE HABIT TO HAVE A PHYSICAL HUMAN CONTACT
Emotional rejection is one of the most painful things for a human being. The feeling of love and affection raises our mood, but rejection gives us the opposite effect. In a study where participants pitched a virtual ball to a partner, they began to feel the rejection when the virtual partner stopped sharing the ball. Studies of participants’ brains showed that they felt this rejection the same way as if you broke your arm – physically, in the insula and anterior cingulum.
So, if social rejection is so bad, what happens when we experience acceptance? Physical contact, even as simple as a handshake, releases oxytocin into the brain and immediately gives us a boost. That’s why we feel so good when we are huddled in our partner’s arms, or when our friends hug us. Touch can also help us when we go wrong.
In a study where married women were informed that they would receive a small electric shock, they had a lesser reaction when they were allowed to hold their husband’s hand. Other research shows that regular hugs for four weeks can increase your happiness. It can also explain why people love massage so much. The human connection felt during can stimulate 30% positive neurotransmitters in your brain.
4. WE SHOULD BECOME MORE ACTIVE IN DECISION-MAKING
Humans often report feeling better after making a decision and sticking to it. There is a good reason behind that. Making a positive decision positively the prefrontal cortex, which can reduce our anxiety and deter you from negative impulses. Making a decision is also a form of puzzle solving, concluding what to do is one way to solve the problem, which reduces the pressure on the limbic system of our brain.
However, we put too much pressure on perfection, and Korb’s research suggests that making a correct decision may be better than seeking a perfect solution. This type of behavior activates the dorsolateral prefrontal areas, which are associated with the control, thus reducing the tension of the situation.
Korb’s research has shown that actively choosing to do something that has good results is even better than something that happens just by chance. For example, wanting to go to the gym rather than being forced to leave gives us a lot more fun. Going on the treadmill with a positive attitude is an active choice, and makes us feel the benefits even more after.
Now that you have some understanding of how the brain works, take advantage of it to use it to control your emotions. Following these four rituals regularly will increase your happiness and help you stay in a better mood.