Choosing Happiness is Good for your Brain

The other day I was at Denver International Airport (DIA) on my way to fly to Jerusalem to visit my sister. I was sitting at a table outside of a coffee shop at the airport enjoying a sandwich before boarding for the first leg of my journey because nowadays you can starve on an airplane.

The upside of being a therapist is that you learn to read people’s body language and demeanor. That also is the downside as I couldn’t help but notice that the man a few tables away had an interesting facial expression. The corners of his mouth were turned down in a permanent scowl. A few moments later, his wife arrived with their lunch and as I glanced from time to time to look around, not once did I see him smile as they interacted. His wife did not look any happier than he did.

Fast forward to yesterday when I was on a bus with my sister going from her home to downtown Jerusalem. Being on a bus in Jerusalem is not as scary or brave as it sounds. You keep living or the terrorists win. The arrangement of the seats in buses here isn’t theater style; half the seats are faced to the front and half are faced to the rear.

Across the bus from me was a woman who was the opposite of the man at DIA. She had a wonderful look of happiness on her face and you could tell from the lines in her face that a slight smile was her natural expression instead of the scowl that the man had.

Before I left for this trip I was in L.A. doing a corporate training where we were teaching an advanced communications course to managers at a major software company. During part of the course we play a segment from the movie, “What the Bleep Do We Know”. The movie excerpt illustrates that neural pathways are established when we repeatedly do certain things or express particular emotions. There are chemicals for every emotion and as we express those emotions, neurons move and link, forming new neural pathways.

This process facilitates learning. For example, when we were learning to drive, it took a lot of concentration to steer, brake, park etc. and now we do all that while talking on cellphones, checking our gpses, changing channels and daydreaming. We have established the neural pathways necessary to drive.

Now, back to the man at DIA and the woman on the bus. If I read them correctly, he has well established neural pathways around being miserable (and broadcasting negativity to those around him) and it shows on his face. She has well established pathways of kindness and love and she not only radiated that but her facial expression reflected it.

So it appers to me that choosing happiness not only is good for your brain chemistry, it seems it could also save money on plastic surgery.

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