Spiritual Practice: Being Happy


I know what you’re thinking, “Happiness is a spiritual practice? Are you crazy?” But hang in there with me and I’ll show you what I mean. I recently attended a lecture by Ralph E. Carson, RD, Ph.D. on Psychophysiology of Hope and Happiness: Insights Into What Recovery Looks Like Using the Brain As An Atlas. The guy was a great teacher and this is what I learned about how to build cellular happiness in the brain.

A little bit about the brain: When we live under long-term stress or have trauma/PTSD, our adrenal glands produce cortisol which is toxic to the brain. It was important at the time of the trauma, to be stressed and worried, but if we let this go on for too long, cortisol can impair our higher cognitive functioning.

We can take antidepressants to produce calming chemicals in the brain, and along with counseling, these are important short-term helps to get us through.

But…think about this news:

The brain is full of stem cells that are undifferentiated, meaning that they are just waiting to be activated into the happy cells our brain needs. Then they will be sent to replace those that are missing to heal our damaged brains and help us live happier, more peaceful lives.


So, there are things we can actually do to increase Happiness Cells in our hurting brains. And here they are:

  1. We can build deep relationships: we are herd animals and need our tribe! We need someone we can confide in without fear of reprisal. Also, we need social support, a safety net. Isolation is hurting our culture more than anything else. Heartfelt hugs release oxytocin, the happy chemical.
  2. We need to let go of things we cannot control: Famine, injustice, disasters…This doesn’t mean to stop working to change things, just don’t take it on as something to stress about as that doesn’t help.
  3. We need to have hope, which is not about wishing for something better, hope comes with action to create a rich and meaningful life consistent with our values.
  4. Then we need to really believe change can happen. This often comes through a personal epiphany, or through our families, or the witness of people who have gone before us in healing, or a Higher Power or intellectual insight. Faith is acting on our belief that something will happen; we are not entirely at the mercy of outside forces.
  5. Knowledge is the key to keeping the element of belief real! We need to learn all we can, know what we are up against and challenge incorrect thoughts. The brain will encode this desirable information and enhance our optimism.
  6. Unforgiveness causes health problems. High blood pressure, elevated heart rate, muscle tension, autoimmune problems, addictions, and cell death through cortisol. You must learn to forgive.
  7. Meditation of any kind that makes you at one with the universe will help. It causes your brain to light up with compassion instead of stress when exposed to difficult things.
  8. Authentic Gratitude also makes the emotional brain light up!
  9. Altruism, which is giving without expectation of a reward, or putting others welfare above your own, also builds new happy cells.

You know what’s interesting about this list? It goes all the way back to the Bible and other ancient religious texts. See! Being happy is a spiritual practice. I’ve written blogs on most of the things on this list!  Basically, wisdom has always told us what our body needs to be happy. Building up these things will allow us to live in a difficult world.

Building up these positive brain cells produces Resilience which is the antidote to chronic stress.

We can’t avoid shocks in this world, so we need to build better shock absorbers.

We have to be flexible, changing old ways that no longer work for us.

So take a look at the list and pick one to work on. We can change our brains and help heal our world.

Let me know if this information is helpful. I found it very encouraging. We can heal our brains and increase our happiness! 


Photo Credit: Happy faces  Wisdom Brain