Much news has been made over the past few years about the plasticity of the human brain: the brain’s ability to physically, neurochemically and emotionally change throughout our lifetimes. Previously, we had believed that the brain, and therefore ourselves, stopped growing once we reached full adulthood, and we were “stuck” with the responses, neural pathways and neurochemical realities of our “grown-up” brains from then on. Now we know that experiences, brain training and even therapy can “re-shape” the brain and affect the way it functions.

Brain Training

Even simple exercises can influence our brains. For example, scientists purport that our brains don’t know the difference between real-time experience and remembered experience. If we set aside two minutes to write down a meaningful recent event in as much detail as possible (like snuggling with my dogs on my couch under a fuzzy blanket, watching the afternoon sunlight glinting off the snow in my yard, as I’m doing now) our brains will experience the memory we are recalling as if it was happening in the moment. Pleasurable sensations will flood our bodies, neural pathways will trigger emotions of contentment, pleasure, gratitude, joy. Scientists maintain that we can change not only our moods, but the physical structures within our brains by utilizing exercises like the one I’ve sketched above.

Benefits for Body AND Brain

Most of us would welcome more pleasure and peace in our lives. Science is suggesting that working out our brains in ways that recall and focus on happy experiences can actually create positive changes that increase our brains’ functioning for happiness. We make resolutions to spend more time at the gym to stay physically healthy. Now, it seems, a little effort training our brains toward happiness may bring us the equivalent of a healthy body — a brain more attuned toward joy. An added bonus — you can do this workout without breaking a sweat.