Did you know that there are four independent brain circuits that influence lasting well-being? Think of them as the Beatles of brain health. While each circuit contributes beautifully on their own, when joined by the others they create magic together – broadening our everyday existence to include a wider and more vibrant range of experience.
The Fab Four
The first pathway to improving brain health is our ability to maintain positive states. This makes sense in that the ability to maintain positive states or positive emotions directly impact one’s ability to experience happiness.
The second circuit is responsible for our ability to recover from negative states. This is where it gets interesting, if not downright fascinating. Recall these are circuits are independent of each other. In other words, you can be doing good, solid work at maintaining positive states and trip down the rabbit hole of negative thinking.
The third circuit is our ability to focus and avoid mind-wandering. Of course, meditation comes quickly to mind as the ultimate way to hone this internal wiring. Whether you choose to focus on your breath, a mantra or formal analytical meditation, the ability to focus one’s attention is a fundamental part of health.
Lastly, the fourth and final circuit is our ability to be generous. Imagine, we have an entire brain circuit devoted to generosity. Is it any wonder, then, that our brains feel so good when we help others, or witness others being helped? Or why sappy movies make us cry? Our brains can’t get enough of these feel-good neurons.
This naturally begs the question, “How do we do this?” It begins with acceptance. We are sensitive beings, wired to be caring and generous with one another. When we go against our nature, our body and soul lets us know. Yet the reality is that many people tend to be annoyed or quick to judge themselves. That’s the human in us! Once we accept that it’s a good thing to have emotions, feelings and reactions we can start the deeper work. But it all starts with accepting who we are.
The best answer on “how” comes from none other than His Holiness the Dalai Lama. We increase joy in our lives by developing “mental immunity.” The simplified definition is that we avoid destructive emotions and develop positive ones. He likens it to being sick. When our health is strong, viruses are less likely to impact us. When our overall health is weak, even a small virus can be dangerous.
Similarly, if our mental health is sound when stress inevitably comes our way we are quicker to recover. In the field, this is referred to as resilience. Conversely, if our mental is vulnerable our tolerance for small problems can bring much pain and suffering. Adding self-acceptance to the analogy, we can round it out by saying even if we eat well, exercise and get adequate rest we may still catch a cold. If so, don’t make it worse by blaming yourself for it.
Like physical health, building “mental immunity” is the longer road. It’s not a fast-acting pill. It develops over time. Through self-inquiry, body-based healing practices and meditation, we can learn to soothe our emotional reactivity and compassionately see patterns that cause us pain and suffering. This is the path of developing mental immunity.
Resilience doesn’t make our problems go away. As they saying goes, sh*t will happen. We cannot control the inevitability of these occurrences. But what can do, is still pretty good. By practicing increasing our mental immunity we discover more productive ways to work through the obstacles to joy and widen our window of tolerance for stress which makes room for greater peace, ease and contentment.