I didn’t like biology much in high school. Now I love it.
Why? Because our understanding of DNA and the human mind is evolving to a place where we can have science-based discussions about what it means to be happy and healthy. Recent studies have clearly established the benefits of gratitude and mindfulness meditation, for example.
Today I want to share two amazing new developments in the realm of human science.
1. We can rewire our brains
Neuroplasticity refers to the brain’s ability to rewire itself. This can happen in response to changes in the external environment or as a way to work around a brain injury. These changes don’t need years; they take place over days and hours. If you have a stressful day, your brain will rewire itself to be more attuned to stressors. The very next day, you’ll be more likely to get stressed out by smaller things, according to Rick Hanson, the author of Hardwiring Happiness: The New Brain Science of Contentment, Calm and Confidence.
In the book, he argues that our brains are biased towards negativity when they rewire themselves. Humans evolved this way as an ancient survival technique, but it’s no longer helpful. The good news is that you can teach your brain to rewire itself to be biased towards happiness. Here’s how: Each time something makes you feel safe, satisfied or connected, don’t just let these positive feelings slip by. By taking a few seconds to reflect on them and internalize them, we create new neurons that will help guide us towards more happy experiences.
2. We inherit environments
Epigenetics is a fascinating field of study that blurs the lines between nature and nurture. It shows that while we inherit our genetic code, the environment plays a significant role in how our DNA is expressed. Genes get turned on an off based on everything from diet to how loving our parents are.
Research published yesterday goes even further, suggesting that epigenetic instructions get passed along to offspring. What this means is that you are inheriting the environment of your ancestors, not just through nurture, but through your genetic code and the epigenetic instructions that accompany it.
If you’re new to the notion of epigenetics, here’s a terrific Ted talk on the topic.
Scroll down and let me know what you think of this amazing new science in the comments below!