Sure, some scientists call the human brain the most complex thing in the universe, but it’s also easier to trick than a Goldendoodle.
When it comes to happiness, training your mind is what I like to call “playing the long game.” It takes time and commitment and other stuff that’s less appealing than immediate gratification. If you’ve considered starting a meditation practice, thought about signing up for a workout classor laid eyes on a healthy cookbook, I’m going to consider your long-game officially covered.
The here and now, however, is far more pressing, especially if your thoughts are racing around your head like rats in the subway, your body feels as sluggish as a snail on a hot day, you just took down your roommate’s off-brand Cheerios like an athlete in a Gatorade commercial and you could really use a hit of dopamine to the brain STAT.
This is where I come in with some pretty sweet ways to pull one over on your brain. Drag yourself through these 7 easy steps and you just might come out the other side feeling like the human equivalent of a daisy.
Nary an ohm, sit-up or grain of farro lies below.
First, contrive a fresh start.
There’s a psychological reason we feel so hopeful on January 1st: our brains are obsessed with fresh starts, and a recent study out of the Wharton School proved that, actually, all we need is the vague perception of one to get that same burst of new year’s mental energy. All you have to do is rewire your brain to think of the transition from, say, morning to afternoon or indoors to outside as “a fresh start.”
Get to contriving!
Then turn on some Drake.
Studies have shown that listening to our favorite music actually triggers dopamine release (our brain’s pleasure chemical — which sounds sensual) in the brain.
“You’re following these tunes and anticipating what’s going to come next and whether it’s going to confirm or surprise you, and all of these little cognitive nuances are what’s giving you this amazing pleasure,” saysneuroscientist Valorie Salimpoor. “The reinforcement or reward happens almost entirely because of dopamine.”
WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR?
Time for some online shopping.
Seriously. All you have to do is be on the hunt for something specific. “The act of seeking and finding activates your reward circuits,” says Deane Alban. Maybe now’s a good time to block off several minutes to look for the perfect summer sandals.
Alternative idea: walk around New York until you see Bill Cunningham.
Next, eat some parmesan cheese.
Dopamine, which we already established as the shit, is derived from the amino acid tyrosine and, according to WiseGeek, “for healthy individuals, increasing dopamine levels can be as easy as increasing physical activity and including foods that contain high levels of tyrosine.”
Skip the boring part of that and go buy some parmesan cheese. It’s the #1 food containing tyrosine.
Now make a power move (with your body).
Consider your physical posture. “When we sit up straight, we are more likely to remember positive memories or think of something positive in general,” according to a study in Ohio.
Slouching is bad for your back (and your look) anyway.
Make an itty-bitty to-do list and complete it.
We all know the satisfaction that comes with checking something off a to-do list, but did you know your brain actually gets a dopamine hit from doing so?
“Allow yourself to experience frequent positive feedback as you progress through a series of goals,” says neurologist Judy Willis. “Dopamine will flow as a result of your brain’s positive reinforcement every time you complete a step and meet a challenge.
Consider these challenges: drink one glass of water, tell someone they’re pretty, sit up straight. Write ’em down, check ’em off, turn your day right around.
Finally, smile like an idiot.
You’ve probably heard of this one before but it bears reminding.
“Scientists have documented the physical release that happens when these facial muscles, along with the thin bones of the face, are moved,” says Cari Scribner. “They found that smiling releases dopamine and serotonin in the brain, sparking a feeling of happiness.”
So have a go at reversing the order and see what happens, then maybe smile in the mirror and see if you get double benefits. Sure, you might look a psycho, but at least you’ll be a happy one.