The BEST HOLIDAYS YET! Contagiousness of Celebration(Part 6-Conclusion) In the last article we discuss how dopamine is the silent and secret factor to make us happy and to motivate us to act to get “happiness.” So if this cycle is invisible and happens automatically, how in the world can I control it?
So we are going back to Part I: Curb Those Grinches and focus on the rider. The rider is your rational, logical and planning part of your brain. The elephant is the emotional and impulsive part of your brain. As we mentioned in the beginning of Part III, the elephant is very susceptible to the release of dopamine, while the rider is not aware of its release. For example, if you eat a piece of chocolate, the chemical reaction makes your body immediately recognize a reward and releases dopamine. You don’t have to think about it. It just tastes good and you want another piece and another. And –what the heck—have one more. (Like I need to remind you that chocolate is addictive. Well, of course it is, but more importantly read Part II: Herculean Willpower—or Not to see how to control those urges.) So, the key is to make your rider more aware of this cycle and how to use it for your advantage.
Unlike a piece of chocolate, your rider needs to be consciously aware of an emotional reward. The cliché, Stop and Smell the Roses, is really a tip on how to make your rider aware that you are enjoying yourself, which leads to more appreciation and then more enjoyment (i.e. release of more dopamine). You can train yourself to more fully enjoy activities by acknowledging and reinforcing your natural reward system. In short, you need to become more mindful that you are having fun.
It’s a Wonderful Life, Charlie Brown’s Christmas and A Christmas Carol all share a moment when their characters consciously become mindful of their appreciation, which leads to a real happiness (for those romantics or dopamine for those realists). Being Mindful means to pause and consciously use your all your senses—seeing, hearing, feeling (and even smelling/tasting) to take in your celebration. When we are fully associated, our brain cannot distinguish between the past, present and future. That’s why past memories can be so strong, hurtful or remorseful.
Sounds hokey? Try it right now—think of a happy memory of a past holiday celebration. See what you saw then. Maybe you can hear yourself or others talking. Feel how you felt. Take a breath and smile from the memories. Feeling good? You should; you just got a little shot of dopamine to remind you how to have the BEST HOLIDAYS YET!
PS. To spice things up, try to be more mindful on this upcoming holiday.