Well, it’s a kind of plastic – neuroplasticity to be precise.
Neuroplasticity is the ‘muscle building’ part of the brain and it’s at work throughout life, where connections within the brain become stronger or weaker, depending on what and how the neuro pathways are being created, used & developed.
We know that young peoples’ brains are incredibly plastic – they have an innate ability to change and flex and adapt far more easily than adults. As we age, change does not come so easily or naturally and in essence, the brain loses some of its plasticity, so that we become more fixed or inflexible in how we think or learn or act.
However, while we are all wired in different ways (which impacts our resilience to stress, emotional intelligence and happiness), we ALL have the ability to rewire our brains through regular mental exercise, such as Mindfulness; Meditation and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), designed to ‘train the brain’ to think and feel and act more positively and with empowerment.
Brain Fitness or Directed Neuroplasticity, as it’s commonly known as, has become a hot topic in the corporate world of late – with scientific proof that happier employees equal happier customers equal a happier, more profitable organisation.
In a BBC News story this week, Science of Happiness expert Steph Peltier, leader of The Happiness Society, shared some fascinating facts and stats about the importance of brain training to build more neuroplasticity, in order to create more happiness and optimism in our lives. She confirms that optimists are more likely to live longer than those who have a more negative approach to life – indeed, positive people are more likely to live up to 15% longer than their negative counterparts!
The theory is that optimists may find it easier to control emotions and so be protected from the effects of stress. Professor Bruce Hood, Chair of Developmental Psychology University of Bristol, runs a course called ‘the science of happiness’ and said the study supported existing evidence of the benefits of positive thinking. He commented that optimists tend to cope better with stress, and as stress impacts the immune system, there is a possibility that this means optimists cope better with infections. “A number of studies have also linked stress with shorter telomeres, a chromosome component that’s been associated with cellular ageing and risk for heart disease, diabetes and cancer” he concluded.
Although a lot is known about the risk factors for disease and early death, far less is understood about what the researchers call ‘positive psycho-social factors’ that could enable healthy ageing. Evidence from these studies suggests that more optimistic people tend to have goals and the confidence to reach them; are more effective in problem-solving; are more able to keep things in perspective and may be better at regulating their emotions during stressful situations.
The studies conclude that Directed Neuroplasticity is the natural ability of the human brain to ‘rewire’ itself through mental and physical experience, in order to change your thoughts, feelings and behaviours – which we all have the power to achieve. There are a range of therapeutic methodologies that can aid the neuroplasticity process, including CBT; NLP; EFT (or Tapping); Mindfulness and Meditation.
The Happiness Society quote their 3 most favourite books on the subject of HAPPINESS & OPTIMISM as follows:
THE HOW OF HAPPINESS by Sonja Lyubomirsky, Professor of Psychology at University of California.
Sonja explains with scientific evidence what happiness is, what it is not and proves that it is actually possible to become happier. She details 12 specific intentional activities that will rewire your brain to ultimately raise your happiness levels as well as tips on how to make these practices successful and most importantly sustainable. Steph Peltier concludes “This is the must-go-to book for anyone looking for a step by step programme to a happier life”
BUDDHA’S BRAIN by Rick Hanson and Richard Mendius, who combine the knowledge of thousands of years of meditative practice with the latest findings of Neuroscience. They explain how the functions of our unconscious nervous system have allowed the survival of our species, but are also not always adapted to the challenges of our times. However, the good news is that, by scientifically studying the brain of people applying contemplative practices in their daily life, they demonstrate in the book how we can actually shape and change our brain to live a more fulfilling, happy life.
HAPPY by British mentalist & illusionist Derren Brown, who explains that happiness really is nothing but ‘a trick of the mind’. He explores the history of Happiness from the Classic Times up to today to finally conclude that ‘happiness is simply to enjoy the good things in life for what they are’.
Happiness is simple: Start dancing, get a dog, chat deeply and smile – you’ll live longer.
Oh! and become more plastic….naturally.
Until next time, keep FIT!