WELL BEING AS A SKILL?

 

I recently viewed a talk on You Tube  by Richard Davidson, one of the “superheroes” of neuroscience, whose research has done so much to increase understanding of our emotional brain, and how much we can train our brain to react differently. I often use the phrase “rewire your brain” to describe the techniques I use in my own courses, because with the discovery of the extent of the brains’ neuroplasticity, that is literally something we all can do with the right type of training.

Davidson, has described himself as being a “closet meditator” from his undergraduate days, but was advised by his professors not to focus on it in his experimental work as it would be likely to hinder his career . Davidson heeded this advice until a meeting with the Dalai Lama in 1992 who challenged him to turn the scientific spotlight on what he was passionately interested in. 

From his knowledge of neuorscience, Davidson now calls wellbeing a SKILL, something you can learn. While there is a large genetic component in happiness ie if you had depressed parents, you are more likely to be depressed yourself, I personally would not bother teaching courses in wellbeing and posititvity, if there was not a large influence from one’s attitudes and behavior, which, being learned, can also be be re-trained. In addition, the science of of epigenetics is teaching us that whether or not specific genetic tendencies exist, gene expression, is heavily influenced by our environment, and what we focus on.

In the you tube clip, Davidson identifies identifies four components that contribute to wellbeing,  ALL of which can be learned and ALL of which are validated by research. 


1) RESILIENCE

Our capacity to bounce back from difficult situations. Davidson points out here, that resilience is slow to develop from mindfulness, but other research from Barbara Fredrickson, has shown an increase in resilience from experiencing and savouring positive emotion.


2) POSITIVE MIND SET

Our capacity to see the good in ourselves, others and in our life experiences.  Davidson conducted a randomized controlled study, with brain scans before and after, where subjects were either assigned to a CBT group or a loving kindness meditation group.  The short ( 7 minutes) sessions of loving kindness meditation done daily for two weeks enhance a positive outlook. ( I have received similar feedback on the loving kindness track on my own CD  “Mindful Everyday” from people who use it daily, but have never been in a position to conduct brain scans, so delighted to see the “hard” evidence !)

3) GENEROSITY

While the debate rages on about whether goodness is innate in human beings (which I, along with Davidson believe) research conclusively shows that we are at our happiest when we are being kind and generous to others, going the extra mile above and beyond the call of duty.


4) ATTENTION

In a 2010 study, Harvard psychologists Killingsworth and Gilbert, published a paper subtitled “A wandering mind is an unhappy mind”. The research, carried out on a large sample of adults, used time sampling, which  is one of the most reliable of research methodologies. Mind wandering predicted 17% of the variance in happiness levels between people, while the particular activity they were doing at the time, only accounted for 3%.

The study also showed  that 47% of the time, the average person’s mind is wandering, and that we are least happy when the mind is wandering. He asks what would be the benefits to wellbeing if we could decrease our distractability by 5%? Research of course has shown training in Mindfulness develops our capacity for sustained attention.

Bearing in mind that the brain is all the time being unwittingly influenced by everything around us, he then  asks what if we took responsibility for the shaping of our own brain?

This is of course what the “Take the Steps” courses are all about- taking the steps, validated by research, which put you in the driver’s seat.

If you want to take advantage of your brain’s neuroplasiticty, and start rewiring your brain for wellbeing and positivity, take action and book now on “Take the Steps” courses starting this coming Wed (city centre 6.30pm ) or Thursday (Clontarf/Raheny 7pm). Full details, booking on home page.