Happiness is not a natural state of being. Our brains are wired to protect us and keep us safe from dangerous situations. Literally, the brain has one job and that is to keep us alive. Now, for some of us, the state of our survival is not as imminent as it once was in the past. For the most part, we are not at risk of being eaten by a bear on a daily basis, nor are we likely to be consumed by some sort of plague. However, at some point in our history, these threats were real and have been burned into our neurobiology as a part of our survival. Hence why we do not go around poking bears and have an ever-evolving wellness regime to aid in our survival. Our brain is hard wired to examine real life situations and discover ways to survive those events. Thanks brain!
Enter in someone who has experienced on going or complex trauma in life. Not only does the brain have generations of information that it is utilizing for survival, it now has additional information to process for survival. Trauma literally changes the brain and burns neural pathways into the brain in order to aid in the prevention of pain in the future. Again, thanks brain for keeping us alive. However, this can cause dysfunction when a person’s brain perceives something as a threat due to those neural pathways, but it is in fact not a threat. The brain can respond with flashbacks of previous events in the wake of a trigger and it is extremely difficult to differentiate past and present emotions. Anxiety levels can increase due to perceived threats as can depression. The struggle truly is real!
There is good news! There is a high level of neural plasticity in the brain, meaning we can literally change our minds. While we cannot remove the past and wipe the slate clean, we can begin to alter the perceived threats. This takes time and is often quite laborious. I can assure you it is worth every ounce of effort to exercise your brain into a more positive way of being. Yes, you heard that correctly, EXERCISE. There will not be any immediate results as this takes time, gentleness, and consistency. Most of all consistency.
When you begin a new workout routine the results take time and practice. Unfortunately, there is no immediate gratification because it takes consistency. You will not see results from just one day or even one week. Oftentimes, people give up before they see the fruits of their labor. Which is why gyms are full in January and by mid-February attendance is already on the decline. However, with consistency, over time you will begin to see progress. This works the same way with the brain because the brain is a muscle. We need to exercise it and we have the power to strengthen it in a positive way. It takes daily conscious effort to rewire some of these neural pathways. Some of them may be deeply ingrained, but with effort and consistency we can learn to override them.
What it boils down to is happiness is an art and a science. Our brains are not intrinsically wired for happiness. With consistency and practice we can truly re-wire our brains into a fulfilling happy way of being.
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