Did you ever hear someone say “you can’t help what you feel”? I used to think that way too until I learned more about how the brain works. The brain is responsible for absolutely everything that happens in your body, including thoughts and feelings. Your brain is like an incredibly large super highway where information is being processed by neurotransmitters or chemicals that go from one receptor to another. The big three in this neurotransmitter world are: dopamine, serotonin and norepinephrine.
Dopamine is related to the experience of pleasure and the reward-learning process.
Serotonin is related to memory, learning, and regeneration of brain cells. An imbalance of serotonin levels can lead to anger, anxiety, panic and depression.
Norepinephrine is related to regulation of mood particularly stress and anxiety.
Why do these chemicals matter? Well, without them, we might not have survived as a species. When we were learning how to survive on planet earth, discovering fire, hunting and gathering for food, creating shelter from caves, we needed to learn very quickly or we would die. When our ancestors encountered large footprints, heard a loud roar, and were then chased by very large saber-toothed tiger, we needed to learn that association very quickly. How many times do you need to touch a hot stove before you learn not to do it again? For most people, it’s only once. Negative experiences imprint in our brains very quickly. Positive experiences take longer to imprint because they were not as directly related to survival and didn’t trigger the fight/flight/freeze response.
So, why am I telling you all this? It’s because, our thoughts and feelings are chemical reactions in our brains, and the things we see, hear, smell, taste, and experience create those chemical reactions. Those repeated chemical reactions, then create synaptic connections…..and that’s how we learn. After a while, we don’t even consciously think about the things we see, hear, smell….process with our senses on a daily basis. We tune out the things we have learned are not a threat to our survival. The learning has been absorbed and we have created a “truth” by our experiences. We believe what our senses are telling us and we have learned what we need to do to survive.
So how does this relate to our ability to choose our feelings? Can someone decide how they are going to feel?
Think of the movies. Some people want to experience fear, so they go see Saw 6. Some people want to feel warm and mushy so they see the latest Nicholas Sparks movie. Some people like a thrill so off they go to see Fast and Furious 7…you get the idea. In a way, we are choosing to feel these different feelings, by choosing to spend 2 hours in that particular movie.
So, what about on a daily basis? Can we consciously create happiness? Yes, we can. We might not be able to sustain it for a long time, but with practice we can get to that feeling. It can be a nice way to start the day.
As an experiment, try telling yourself 10 things you like about your life. Remember, all thoughts and feelings are a chemical reaction in your brain. By doing this, you will create a chemical reaction and release the related neurotransmitters that result in feelings of happiness, positivity or all around well-being.
If that is uncomfortable, try listing 10 things for which you are grateful.
See how your mood starts to lift. It does take some practice, and you should try it every day for 10 days and see what happens.