My Depression Is Not Your Depression

6328691312_9ebb993769_zOn the Best Brain Possible Facebook page, I’ve learned from experience to be very choosy about any posts on depression because people can get really passionate and colorfully expressive about their depression.  Many have strong opinions about whether the condition is based in biology, thinking, or lifestyle. Whenever I post an article about antidepressants, I find out real quickly that people either love them or hate them.

Recently, I posted the piece, Depression Doing The Thinking from Psychology Today (credible source, right?), explaining that:

One of the features of depression is pessimistic thinking. The negative thinking is actually the depression speaking. It’s what depression sounds like. Depression in fact manifests in negative thinking before it creates negative affect.

My Depression Is Better Than Your Depression (nah, nah, nah, nah, nah)

A conversation with a follower ensued:

Follower: Depression is an illness not a behaviour. This approach isn’t much different than telling a depressed person to just snap out of it. Please don’t contribute to perpetuating myths about mental illness.

Me: Depression is a multi-faceted condition attributed to many things including thinking habits. Is all depression just thinking? No. Is all depression biological? No. Please allow for both.

Follower: If that was directed at me, I don’t need a lecture, thank you. I have suffered from depression for decades. There’s a chance I know what I’m talking about. I appreciate, however, that it is very difficult for someone who doesn’t suffer from a mental illness to understand what it’s like. That’s a large part of the challenge of breaking the stigma.

Me: I suffered from depression for decades and tried to commit suicide twice. So, does that make you or me an expert on depression? NO! It makes you the expert on YOUR depression and me the expert on mine. Every case is unique and different. I can’t begin to know what is best or the solution for anyone else. All I can do is take care of myself, tell what worked FOR ME, and share information. That’s what I’m doing.

When writing my reply, I thought, “Really?  Are we really going to play one-up about whose depression is more legit?”

No one’s depression is more real or more legit than anyone else’s because no one’s depression is the same as anyone else’s. It’s like comparing apples to oranges — and grapes. You just can’t do it.

Depression Defined

Depression is an umbrella term for many different conditions, behaviors, and symptoms. In Deeper Than Down In The Dumps, I write:

Depression is a complex illness with a basis in brain neurochemicals and thought patterns with many other contributing factors such as life events, environment, biochemicals, and heredity. 

Just as there’s not a single definition or manifestation of depression, there’s no one medical test to confirm a diagnosis. A diagnosis is a professional opinion based on clusters of symptoms exhibited and various test results. Lab tests are generally run to rule out other physical problems which may be causing the depressive symptoms, such as thyroid disease.

In The Down Side Of Antidepressants, I explain:

The truth is that, just as there is a great deal still unknown about how the brain functions, experts aren’t really sure how antidepressants work. You might have seen depression explained as a “chemical imbalance” or a “serotonin deficiency.” It’s not quite that simple. We really don’t know what causes depression, how it affects the brain, or what’s a cause and what’s a symptom even.

I think we can all agree that depression isn’t just a matter of will, but I don’t think we can begin to decide what depression “should” look like, whose is worse, or what’s the best treatment for someone else. 

While medications alone can and do help some people, others find success in altering their behavior through mindfulness, affirmations, positive thinking, prayer, meditation, cognitive behavioral therapy, physical exercise, or by adding supplements or changing their diet.

After decades of taking antidepressants, I tried to commit suicide resulting in a serious brain injury. While healing the brain injury, I healed my depression — because maybe I got my brain functioning optimally for the first time in my life or maybe it was because of all the other changes I made. When I quit looking for an easy fix in a pill or therapist and confronted and worked through my issues and altered my behaviors and thinking, the depression lifted and life got infinitely better as I grew stronger, more resilient, and positive.

Will the strategies that worked for me work for everyone? No. Each person has to find the right solution for them. Will making healthier food choices, exercising, and learning mental health tools hurt anyone? No. Should options without the side effects and risks of medication be tried before taking antidepressants? Most definitely yes — except in urgent situations.

I have an acquaintance who does yoga about every day, exercises regularly, meditates, is a healthy eater, and doesn’t find relief from her depression in these practices. Does that make her depression more real than mine? No. It makes it different and more challenging to resolve.

Kinds Of Depression

For the record, there are generally nine recognized subsets of depression:

  • Major Depression – extreme sadness, hopelessness, lack of energy, irritability, trouble concentrating, changes in sleep or eating habits, feelings of guilt, physical pain, and thoughts of death or suicide lasting for more than two weeks and usually recurring.
  • Dysthmia – low mood over a long period of time. People can function adequately, but not optimally. Symptoms include sadness, trouble concentrating, fatigue, and changes in sleep habits, and appetite.
  • Postpartum Depression – is characterized by feelings of extreme sadness, fatigue, loneliness, hopelessness, suicidal thoughts, fears about hurting the baby, and feelings of disconnect from the child after a woman gives birth.
  • Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) – usually starts in early winter and lifts in the spring, is likely due to a decrease in sunlight, and can be treated with light therapy. Symptoms include anxiety, increased irritability, daytime fatigue, and weight gain.
  • Atypical Depression – commonly includes a sense of heaviness in the arms and legs, like a form of paralysis, in addition to oversleeping and overeating. People with the condition may also gain weight, be irritable, and have relationship problems.
  • Psychotic Depression – is a mental state characterized by delusions and hallucinations. About 20 percent of people with depression have episodes so severe that they see or hear things that are not there.
  • Bipolar Disorder – is also called manic depressive disorder and has four subsets of its own. It consists of periods of extreme lows followed by periods of extreme highs.
  • Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD) -  is a type of depression that affects women during the second half of their menstrual cycles and is more severe than PMS. Symptoms include depression, anxiety, and mood swings.
  • Situational Depression – is triggered by a stressful or life-changing event, such as job loss, the death of a loved one, trauma — even a bad breakup. Situational depression tends to clear up over time on its own, but can turn into major depression.

image source:

How To Use 100% Of Your Brain

Brain Power Gauge Measures Creativity and Intelligence

Recently, I saw the movie Lucy starring Scarlett Johansson and Morgan Freeman. If you’re planning on watching it and don’t want me to spoil it for you, then skip the next paragraph. (In my opinion, you can find plenty of better ways to spend 89 minutes.)

The general story is that a college student studying abroad (Johansson) gets abducted by a gang in Taipei and is forced to carry a bag of drugs that they implant in her abdomen. When the bag starts leaking its contents, CPH4 (based on a real molecule that pregnant woman produce which the movie likens to an “atomic bomb for a fetus”), the drug triggers rampant production of new connections between neurons giving Lucy access to the 90 percent of her brain that supposedly most of us never use.

The explosive brain growth makes her superhuman, and levitation, time travel, mind reading, learning Chinese in an instant, mentally controlling electronics, altering and generating new body parts, as well as high speed car chases, and fight-to-the-death scenes follow.

Lucy is based on a lie

The director, Luc Besson, knew the idea that we only use 10% of our brain power was wrong, but went with it anyway. Hey, it IS science fiction. I get it, but the problem is that too many people accept this brain myth as a fact. According to a TED-Ed Animation, two thirds of the public and nearly half of all science teachers still mistakenly believe this nonsense.

There’s absolutely no truth to the idea that we only use 10% of our neural matter.

The Battle In Your Brain

It’s true that increased connectivity between neurons is associated with greater ability. Studies have shown that musicians, who play stringed instruments, have larger areas of their brains dedicated to their active hands. Brain scans of London taxi drivers have revealed that the more years a driver has on the job correlates to a larger portion of their brain being recruited to store spatial information.

These findings demonstrate Hebb’s law: neurons that fire together wire together and neuroplasticity, the ability of the brain to change its physical structure and function based on repeated experience, behavior, and thoughts. In the blog, The Battle In Your Brain, I write:

Every minute of every day there’s a battle going on in your brain — a battle for cortical real estate.  Your experiences, behaviours, emotions, and even your thoughts are constantly, literally changing and shaping your brain.

You have a use or lose it brain. Any unused connections go dormant to free up resources needed to strengthen those connections that are most often used. Neuroplasticity is competitive, and functioning areas of the brain not receiving any stimuli will be quickly taken over. In experiments where participants were blindfolded, their visual cortices started reorganising themselves to process sound in just two days!

You Already Use 100% Of Your Brain

Brain scans show activity coursing through your entire brain all the time, even at rest and during sleep. Not all 86 billion neurons are firing at once, of course, but they do exist in a constant state of resting potential, electrically charged, ready to act when needed. 

An article in Scientific America, “Do People Only Use 10% Of Their Brains,” explains:

‘Evidence would show over a day you use 100 percent of the brain,’ says John Henley, a neurologist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. Even in sleep, areas such as the frontal cortex, which controls things like higher level thinking and self-awareness, or the somatosensory areas, which help people sense their surroundings, are active, Henley explains. ….'[I]t turns out though, that we use virtually every part of the brain, and that [most of] the brain is active almost all the time’

Your Brain Is An Energy Hog

Your brain is incredibly hungry and requires a huge amount of energy just to keep running. The human adult brain makes up about only 2% of the body’s mass yet uses 20% of energy intake. In children, the brain eats up 50% of daily glucose intake, and infant’s brains take a whopping 60%.

Brain sizes scale in proportion to body size with larger animals having larger brains, but on a per weight basis, humans pack in more neurons than any other species. This density is what makes us so smart. It takes an awful lot of fuel to power that complex brain, and there’s a trade off between body size and sustainable number of neurons. According to the Ted-Ed Animation, “A 25 kilogram ape has to eat 8 hours a day to uphold a brain with 53 billion neurons.”

The invention of cooking food gave humans the means to power their growing brains because our guts could more easily absorb energy from cooked food.

Our brains also adapted by learning to become incredibly energy efficient. At any one time, only a small proportion of brain cells are signaling, a process known as “sparse coding”, allowing the brain to use the least amount of energy while transferring the most information. The need to conserve energy resources is the reason that most brain processes happen below conscious awareness and that multi-tasking just doesn’t work. There’s not enough energy available to the brain to focus on more than one thing at a time.

The energy burden of maintaining an activation spike over the entire brain at once would be unsustainable. So, using the brain at full capacity all the time, like depicted at the end of the movie, would be impossible. A person simply could not supply the necessary fuel.

Smart Drugs

Another movie, Limitless, portrayed a disheveled writer who cleaned up his life and at the bank when he discovered and became addicted to a cognitive enhancing “smart drug.”  While some neuroenhancers or nootropics do actually exist today, a wonder drug as portrayed in both movies has yet to be discovered. 

In a BBC News article, Professor John Harris, director of the Institute for Science, Ethics, and Innovation at The University of Manchester, says smart drugs can give people an edge, but:

They have a similar effect to hard work and coffee. Physical exercise also has the same effect.  They are all, to an extent, cognitive enhancers. If you’re not a genius before, you won’t be afterward.

The Scientific America article concludes by saying, “Ultimately, it’s not that we use 10 percent of our brains, merely that we only understand about 10 percent of how it functions.”

How Exercise Helps Your Brain

silhouette mountain bike cyclist and great sunriseMaybe you already exercise to trim your tummy, keep your weight in check, or ward off the major killers. Good for you! But did you know that moving your body is also about the best thing you can do for your brain? While the benefits of a workout have been well-known for below-the-neck for a long time, the incredible advantages for your brain are just being discovered.

Research is showing that physical exercise improves mood, memory, attention, creativity, and learning and reduces depression, age related decline, and the risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s.

The Alzheimer’s Research Center is advocating exercise as one of the best weapons against the disease. Exercise protects your hippocampus, the part of your brain which governs memory and spatial navigation, the first things to go with Alzheimer’s. A recent Finnish study with twins showed exercise to reduce dementia risks even over genetics.  Even babies of mothers who exercised during pregnancy are born with more mature brains. So much evidence is accumulating that physical exercise is the miracle potion for getting and keeping your brain healthy at any age

How Much Exercise?

The exact amount or intensity of the exercise required has yet to be determined, but it appears that the minimum is thankfully low and studies have shown that modest amounts of exercise yield positive results. In fact, even strength training can have lasting cognitive benefitsResearch has confirmed that walking just 72 blocks (roughly 6 miles) a week can enhance brain function.  In general, exercise improves the connectivity of brain circuits, increases gray matter (actual neurons), combats and reverses the brain shrinkage associated with aging, increases performance on cognitive tasks, and shields you from stress and depression.

How Exercise Boosts Your Brain

Moving your body increases the blood flow to your brain which elevates oxygen levels which trig­gers bio­chem­i­cal changes protecting the new resulting neu­rons by bathing them in nerve growth fac­tor (BDNF). These conditions encourage your brain to grow and change by forming new neural pathways and synaptic con­nec­tions, a process known as neuroplasticity.

Just like your muscles, your brain cells need to be stressed to grow and doing complicated activities requiring coordination and thought challenges them and enhances attention and concentration which is why activities requiring you to move and think at the same time, like tennis or ballroom dancing, provide the biggest brain boost. High school students who did 10 minutes of a complex fitness routine scored better on tests than students who did 10 minutes of random physical activity.

Exercise also reduces stress and anxiety by increasing soothing brain chemicals, like endorphins and GABA. Antibodies are elevated strengthening your immune system and endocannabinoids (yes, they’re like the active ingredient in cannabis) are released and play a role in pain sensation, mood, and memory. Exercise may even work on a cellular level to reverse stress’ toll in aging our bodies. Studies found that stressed out women who exercised vigorously for an average of 45 minutes over a three day period had cells showing fewer signs of aging compared to women who were stressed and inactive.

Research has also shown that burning off 350 calories three times a week through sustained, sweat-inducing activity can reduce symptoms of depression about as effectively as antidepressants. This may be because exercise appears to stimulate the growth of neurons in brain regions damaged by depression.

One study found that three sessions of yoga per week boosted participants’ levels of the brain chemical GABA, which typically translates into improved mood and decreased anxiety. (I’m a yogaholic!)

Exercise Healed My Damaged Brain

In 2007 when facing many stressful life events all at once, I tried to commit suicide by overdosing on pills resulting in a serious brain injury. While I did survive (obviously), I was left seriously cognitively impaired. In the years that followed, physical exercise was a huge part of my road to recovery. Once I learned how beneficial moving my body was for my brain, my life became all about encouraging neuroplasticity through exercise and putting it to work for me healing my brain. Self-directed neuroplasticity, guided by exercise and activity, was the key to my recovery.

For the first months after the injury, I went to the local Y, working out regularly on the elliptical machine, Stairmaster, or treadmill, and in aerobic classes. Well, I tried to participate in the group classes as best as I could. Because my timing and coordination were off, I couldn’t keep up with the class and looked goofy.  However, by repeatedly challenging my brain and body to do the movements, I forced my brain to make new connections to master the exact things that were difficult for me.  I’d sweated regularly my entire adult life motivated by vanity up until that point. Little did I know how well my ego would later serve me.

Upon continuing to learn more about how to better my brain, at 10 months post injury, I began doing cardiovascular activity every day, usually 45 minutes to an hour, but, no less than 30 minutes. Everyday. No excuses. I remember running in the pouring rain and all bundled up in the snow with only my eyes peeping out.  When it came to working out, I had a compulsive drive because I desperately wanted to recover, because my brain was not functioning optimally so I was a little OCD, and because I’d tended to be that way my whole life.

While I’d aimed this laser beam focus on many things that weren’t to my benefit in the past, such as a man or having an immaculate house, my obsessiveness helped me tremendously in my rehabilitation efforts. I exercised almost every day for years.  At a year post injury, I also added hot yoga to the mix, but didn’t count it as exercise. It was my relaxation.

Thankfully, I recovered far beyond what the doctors predicted and enjoyed the added benefit of getting in the best shape of my life in my late forties. Still to this day, exercise and yoga are an important part of my life because I feel that they’re crucial to stay mentally and physically healthy, especially as I age and because I enjoy them and don’t feel right without them anymore.

If exercise helped heal my damaged brain, just think of what it can do for your brain.  Even 10 minutes of activity changes your brain. Get moving!

Pain Is In Your Brain (and can end there)


The word pain has its roots in the Latin word meaning punishment.  Fitting, right?  But pain isn’t just your body’s way of playing some sadistic trick on you. Pain is actually an injured body’s reward and penalty system telling the person not to do something that might cause further damage and rewarding them with relief when they comply. At the most basic level, pain is simply your body sending some electrical signals which your brain interprets as pain. As we know from the use of general anesthesia, if the brain doesn’t process the signals, there’s no pain.

The Gate Theory Of Pain

In his book The Brain’s Way of Healing: Remarkable Discoveries and Recoveries from the Frontiers of Neuroplasticity, Norman Doidge tells of the work of neuroscientists Ronald Melzack and Patrick Wall who disproved the conventional thinking that pain nerves send a one-way signal to the brain with the intensity of the pain correlating to the seriousness of the injury back in 1965. Melzack and Wall proposed the “gate theory of pain” where pain messages sent from hurt tissue have to pass through several “gates” in the nervous system before reaching the brain. Each gate decides if the signal is important enough to give it permission to pass, and if permission is granted, the gate opens causing certain neurons to turn on and transmit their signals increasing and escalating the pain.

But the good news is: The system also works in reverse.  Doidge explains:

…the brain can also close a gate and block the pain signal by releasing endorphins, the narcotics made by our bodies to quell pain.

Chronic Pain is Brain Plasticity Gone Wild

Your brain is neuroplastic, meaning it physically changes form and function based on your repeated experiences, mental and physical. Neurons that fire together wire together strengthening and increasing their connections, firing faster, and becoming more efficient. The opposite is also true, and connections are weakened and lost over time when neurons are not activated together. Neuroplasticity is both a blessing and a curse and chronic pain is brain plasticity gone wild. Acute pain is your body’s way of getting you to immediately attend to injury or disease. Chronic pain is acute pain’s uglier, stronger ghost.

Signals from parts of the body are processed in the brain with adjacent body areas usually represented beside each other in the brain. When pain receptors in one body area’s pain map fire repeatedly, they can undergo neuroplastic change, becoming stronger and more sensitive and even enlarging the brain map (meaning the pain is experienced over a larger area of the body), and continue firing after the original cause of the pain is gone. Pain signals can even “spill” onto other brain maps causing whats known as “referred pain” in completely different parts of the body.

When this happens, the pain isn’t in the body anymore.  It’s is in the brain. A vicious cycle of the pain reinforcing itself has taken hold and the body’s alarm system in the brain is stuck on.

Acute pain is the brain interpreting sensations originating from the bottom up. Chronic pain is a more complex, top down process. Studies have shown that when determining our subjective experience of pain perception, our brain factors in its expectations for whether action can be taken to diminish the pain which greatly influences the level of pain felt.

Plasticity Is Both The Problem And Answer

In his book, Doidge tells the story of Michael Maskowitz M.D., a psychiatrist, who became a pain specialist because he wanted to alleviate his own chronic pain resulting from a falling accident. After pouring over thousands of pages of neuroscience research, Maskowitz came up with a plan to reverse his pain.

Because of plasticity, there is always a battle in your brain for cortical real estate. You have a use or lose it brain meaning that activities performed regularly take up more space in the brain and “steal” resources from other areas, a concept known as competitive plasticity. Maskowitz noticed that the areas of the brain that actively process chronic pain also process thoughts, sensations, images, memories, movements, emotions and beliefs when they aren’t being hijacked by pain.

Maskowitz decided that when he was in pain, he would take these areas of his brain back and force them to work on other activities rather than processing the pain signals.  When he felt an attack of pain, he immediately visualized the areas in his brain processing pain shrinking until it looked like a pain free brain.  Doidge quotes Maskowitz and writes:

‘I had to be relentless – even more relentless than the pain signal itself,’ he said. He greeted every twinge of pain with an image of his pain map shrinking, knowing that he was forcing his posterior cingulate and posterior parietal lobes to process a visual image.

It worked. In the first three weeks, he noticed a slight decrease in the pain. By six weeks, some of his expanding pain had started to disappear. By four months, he was having his first totally pain free periods in  thirteen years, and within a year, he was almost always pain free. If he did have pain, usually from doing something to cause it, he responded with his visualization method and could make it go away in minutes most of the time.

Maskowitz started teaching his method to his patients with amazingly successful results. He coined the acronym MIRROR to detail the steps of the process:

  • Motivation – The chronic pain sufferer has to take an active role in their healing. Instead of taking a pill or turning to doctors to solve their pain, they must understand the physical process causing their pain and understand how and believe that their brain can reverse it.
  • Intention – Contrary to what you might think, the immediate intention is not to get rid of the pain. It’s to focus the mind and visualize the pain brain map shrinking.  The long term reward is pain relief.
  • Relentlessness – Every time pain breaks through the consciousness threshold, it must be met with the visualizations. Self-directed neuroplasticity requires intense focus to happen.
  • Reliability – The person needs to know that they can rely on their own brain to heal and function normally.  The brain always seeks a stable state, which in this case, is chronic pain.  So, its unconscious preference for stability has to be consciously overridden until pain free becomes the stable state.
  • Opportunity – The person needs to view each pain episode becomes a chance to repair a faulty system.
  • Restoration – The goal of the process is not to mask the pain or deal with the symptoms as medication or anesthetics would, but it is to restore normal brain function.

Plasticity – Not Placebo Or Pills

The end to the pain is not likely to be a placebo effect because the results are lasting (in Maskowtiz’s case 30 years and years for his patients), and placebos generally work rapidly with persons relapsing pretty quickly. Patients using the MIRROR method can show no response for weeks, then gradually have diminishing pain as the brain changes until they only have to do the intervention for occasional pain breakthroughs. This pattern is consistent with people who have used neuroplastic techniques to cure learning disorders and recover after stroke or brain injury. However, because results were not immediate or dramatic at first, not everyone was able to sustain the level of commitment and dedication required to successfully implement MIRROR.

I used my own experience-dependent neuroplasticity exercises to recover from a brain injury.  Neuroplasticity does take time, commitment, and effort, but it CAN work.  Doidge writes:

What Maskowitz has added to our understanding of this ability of the mind to eliminate a particular pain is that constant mental practice is necessary to strengthen this ability and change the firing of the brain in a way that can be sustained.  Unlike medication or placebo, the neuroplastic technique allows patients to reduce use over time, once their networks have rewired.

One of the most important insights coming from Maskowitz’ work is the revelation that opioid narcotics, popular for treating pain, actually make pain problems WORSE because of neuroplasticity. Over time, a pain sufferer’s brain adapts to the opioids becoming less sensitive to them and more sensitive to the pain causing the patient to become more dependant on the drugs and so on. Maskowitz successfully weaned many of his patients off their opioids by lowering their doses gradually giving their brains time to make neuroplastic changes with the visualizations.

Introvert Or Extrovert Begins In Your Brain

8426055595_1a00c53397_oWhether your idea of a fun Saturday night includes a lively evening out with friends or a quiet night at home on the couch with a book depends partly on how your brain functions.

In the 1920s, psychologist Carl Jung introduced the terms introvert and extrovert to describe contrasting personality types hypothesising that the main difference came from how people were energized. Extroverts, he proposed, gain energy from their environments and social interaction and get anxious when alone.  Introverts refuel in quiet and solitude and find socializing and busy environments draining and overstimulating. Psychologists have since added a third category, the ambivert, to describe someone who exhibits both personality types.

No one is completely introverted or extroverted, and as Carl Jung reportedly said, “Such a person would be in the lunatic asylum.”  Introversion and extroversion are at the opposite ends of the same spectrum, and we all need interaction with and draw energy from others at times and need solitude and down time.  Everybody drifts up and down the spectrum depending on what’s going on in their life and how they’re feeling, but a person tends to favor one personality type over the long run.

Turns out that Jung was right.

Science Shows Brain Differences

Science has confirmed that introverts’ and extrovert’s brains actually function differently resulting in the varying personality traits.   In studies by researcher Michael Cohen in 2005, extroverts were found to have more active dopamine systems.  Dopamine, the “reward drug,” is a neurochemical playing a crucial role in the brain circuits controlling approach (vs avoidance), reward-motivated behavior, learning, and response to novelty.  This finding supports the proposal another psychologist, Hans Eysenck, made in the 1960s that extroverts have a higher level of psychological arousal, the extent to which our bodies and minds are alert and ready to respond to stimuli.  Hence, the extroverts’ need for social engagement, seeking out novel experiences, and risk taking.

Conversely, introverted people might be overstimulated by situations extroverts find pleasantly exciting or engaging because they have a low level of psychological arousal. The introvert tends to seek out quiet conversations, solitary pursuits, and predictable environments.

Other research conducted in 2013, determined that extroverts have a more robust dopamine response to reward, such as food, sex, social interactions as well as more abstract things such as money or achieving a goal, and form stronger memories associating circumstances with the reward.  In other words, extroverts experience more frequent, stronger positive emotions and memories with rewards than introverts which perpetuates their extroverted behavior.

In 1999, studies found that introverts had more blood flow to their frontal lobes, brain regions primarily responsible for executive function, personality, purposeful behavior, decision making, as well as in areas involved in recalling events, making plans, and solving problems.  Extroverts had more blood flow in brain areas concerned with interpreting sensory data which would mean, just as Jung suspected, that extroverts focused attention externally while introverts focused inward.

Scientists don’t know if these differences in the brain cause a person to be one way or the other or if the person’s behavior causes their brains to function accordingly.

So, part of the introvert/extrovert difference is physically based your brain, and part of it is learned from your experiences and social conditioning. Being introverted or extroverted is neither good nor bad, and both have benefits and drawbacks depending on the specific situation.    There are circumstances where an introvert may want to encourage more extroverted qualities and vice versa.  The key is to become aware of your motivations, preferences, and needs and honor them to make sure you’re taking care of yourself and aren’t instinctually making decisions and behaving out of fear or due to subconscious influences.

It’s An Extrovert’s World

However, much of the world, from the school system to the workplace, is set up to reward extroverts leaving introverts overlooked or feeling as if they don’t measure up.  In business where networking is so important, an introvert might be seen as not being “leadership material.”   Psychologists believe that social media is proving to be a great equalizer and valuable tool for the introvert because it allows them to communicate and network on their own terms.  (I would wholeheartedly agree.)

For example, I consider myself a social introvert, meaning I need lots of quiet and solitude but do occasionally enjoy socializing one-on-one or in small groups.  I didn’t acknowledge or accept this until the last decade and grew up with a very extroverted mother who thrives on an active social life and had a successful career in sales.  Growing up, I always felt like something was wrong with me because I wasn’t more like her.  I wanted to be and tried to be, but it just wasn’t happening.

In second grade, I had to get up in front of the class and recite a poem or something like that.  Standing there, in front of the whole class in my little plaid dress, I actually peed on myself and made a puddle on the floor because I was so nervous.  Now, I’ve had a brain injury, and I don’t recall some things, but I still remember that humiliating incident – even down to the details of my dress.  As a preteen, I swam competitively and would get so anxious before big races that I’d throw up.

I found a group of friends and learned to be more social and extroverted in high school and college, but my introverted nature was still there.  Fast forward to my first job out of college, selling advertising for a magazine.  Instead of going around making cold calls, I used to drive home and sit in my apartment until the end of the day when it was time to head back to the office.  Needless to say, I wasn’t very successful at that job, but I wanted to be and criticized myself mercilessly for not being able to knock on doors.

When I finally learned to accept and honor my introverted tendencies and quit trying to fit the image of what I thought I should be like (Those “shoulds” are bad news!), I realized there was nothing wrong with me and became a lot happier.  I was just different from my mother and that was OK.

The Introvert/Extrovert In You

If you’re an introvert too, it’s important to realize that it’s not a problem to be fixed, but a natural and healthy personality trait which needs to be respected when making life choices – such as jobs requiring you to make cold calls.  However, an introvert can benefit by sometimes fostering the ability to act like an extrovert and get outside their comfort zone in certain situations.  The reverse is also true. These articles have some good suggestions:  Attention Introverts: How To Become More Extroverted and How To Turn An Introvert Into An Extrovert (Or Vice Versa).

Whether you’re an introvert, extrovert, or ambivert, you are fine just the way you are, and I would encourage you not label yourself or get stuck in the same old habits and patterns. Any person and their brain is going to benefit by continually learning, growing, and having new experiences.  Honor who you are, but push and support yourself to live the fullest life you can – whatever that looks like to you!

Image source:

Happiness Is A Skill

6074115915_2f2cfa1c3d_zThe foolish man seeks happiness in the distance; the wise grows it under his feet.” — James Openheim

Maybe you’ve always thought of yourself as being a “glass half full” or “glass half empty” kind of person.  That’s just the way you were born.  Right?

The popular set-point theory of happiness suggests that a person’s level of subjective well-being is determined primarily by heredity and personality traits set early on and remains relatively stable throughout their life.  Someone’s happiness may get a boost or drop temporarily in response to major life events, such as a promotion, money, marriage, death, divorce, or layoff, but almost always returns to the baseline level as they habituate to the change over time.

You know, people just get used to their current conditions, good and bad, a harsh reality called hedonic adaptation.  Because of this, we find ourselves on what psychologists refer to as the hedonic treadmill – always striving to get the next bright shiny thing in search of happiness.

However, research has proven that people’s happiness levels can change substantially over their lifetimes, suggesting that the trait isn’t predetermined by genes or personality, but is actually a skill that can be learned.  In fact, a significant number of people followed over 25 years saw their happiness levels shift by one-third or more.

Happiness Is A Habit

While some people seem to be naturally happier and some have to work harder at it, everyone can implement practices into their lives shown to elevate satisfaction and joy. Luckily, with all the focus on happiness in the past decade, we have scientific findings to draw from about how to learn the skill of happiness to raise our happiness set points permanently. You can increase your positive feelings by incorporating a few proven practices into your daily routine regularly.

The practice of mindfulness, a mental state of relaxed awareness of the present moment, extending openness and curiosity toward your feelings rather than judgments of them, is a powerful tool for increasing happiness.  Altruism, compassion, and gratitude, all part of mindfulness, have been shown to not only to correlate with happiness, but to cause it.

So, what does this look like in your everyday life?

Happify, an online framework designed to train your brain to build skills for lasting happiness, uses the acronym S.T.A.G.E. to explain the five key happiness skills on their website:


Savoring is a quick and easy way to boost optimism and reduce stress and negative emotions. It’s the practice of being mindful and noticing the good stuff around you, taking the extra time to prolong and intensify your enjoyment of the moment, making a pleasurable experience last for as long as possible. So whether it’s preparing a meal, pausing to admire the sunset, or telling a friend your good news—the idea is to linger, take it in, and enjoy the experience.


The simple act of identifying and then appreciating the things people do for us is a modern-day wonder drug. It fills us with optimism and self-confidence, knowing that others are there for us. It dampens our desires for “more” of everything—and it deepens our relationships with loved ones. And when we express our gratitude to someone, we get kindness and gratitude in return. In studies led by Dr. Martin Seligman, people have written gratitude letters to someone they’ve never properly thanked, and seen immediate increases in happiness and decreases in depressive symptoms. Bob Emmons, …a leading researcher in the field of gratitude … believes everyone should try practicing gratitude because: “First, the practice of gratitude can increase happiness levels by around 25%. Second, this is not hard to achieve. A few hours writing a gratitude journal over 3 weeks can create an effect that lasts 6 months if not more. Third, cultivating gratitude brings other health effects, such as longer and better quality sleep time.”


Feeling hopeful, having a sense of purpose, being optimistic. Study after study shows that people who have created meaning in their lives are happier and more satisfied with their lives (Steger, Oishi, & Kashdan 2008). You too can feel more upbeat about your future and your potential. And who doesn’t want that? Genuine optimism is a friend magnet. It also makes your goals seem attainable and your challenges easier to overcome. Bottom line: you’ll not only feel more successful, you’ll be more successful. A person’s level of hope is shown to correlate with how well they perform tasks. Using one’s strengths in daily life, studies have found, curbs stress and increases self-esteem and vitality.


Everything about giving is a no-brainer. Obviously, when you give someone something, you make them happier. But what you might not know is that the giver—not the receiver—reaps even more benefits. Numerous studies show that being kind not only makes us feel less stressed, isolated and angry, but it makes us feel considerably happier, more connected with the world, and more open to new experiences. …[R]esearch shows that when we give of ourselves, everything from life satisfaction to self-realization and physical health is significantly affected. Mortality is delayed. Depression is reduced. Well-being and good fortune are increased.


Empathy is a powerful word packed with lots of different interpretations. It’s the ability to care about others. It’s the ability to imagine and understand the thoughts, behaviors or ideas of others, including those different from ourselves. If you care about the relationships in your life—and who doesn’t?—learning the skill of empathy has enormous payoffs. When we empathize with people, we become less judgmental, less frustrated, angry or disappointed—and we develop patience. We also solidify the bonds with those closest to us. And when we really listen to the points of view of others, they’re very likely to listen to ours. …[T]he brain is constantly changing in response to environmental factors, and this also extends to compassion for the self.

Harnessing Technology To Promote Happiness

According to Richard J. Davidson, professor of psychology and psychiatry at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, in an interview with Huffington Post, happiness is the formation of brain networks resulting from the regular expression of compassion, generosity, and kindness.

Your brain is changing its physical form and function all the time anyway in response to your behaviors, emotions and thoughts, an ability known as neuroplasticity, whether it’s to your benefit or not.  Davidson cites studies where training for happiness for as little as 2 weeks, for 30 minutes a day produced measurable changes in the participants brains and suggests that technology can be harnessed to promote happiness by technologically capturing mindfulness.

In Davidson’s opinion, technology can play a pivotal role in helping Americans to embrace the idea that well-being is a skill to be learned.

It is possible to interact with technology in a way which is mindful.  I think it’s a complicated calculus and it would be wrong to conclude that technology is the root of all evil.  I think that we should figure out ways to harness technology to use it for good.

There are plenty self-help applications, like The Mindfulness AppHeadspace,, available now for increasing mindfulness, well-being, and happiness throughout your day which remind you to take a deep breath, ways to keep calm, or tips on how to meditate.  One study, with the clever name of “Putting the ‘app’ in happiness,” found that smart phone based interventions significantly enhanced the participants’ well-being,

The bottom line is that happiness is a skill that can be learned.  Just a few minutes a day spent on practices shown to increase happiness and well-being, when performed on a regular basis, can re-wire your brain and help you permanently elevate your level of happiness.  Like learning anything new, this does take dedicated work, but it may be the most rewarding work you’ll ever do.

image source:

What’s The Difference Between Feelings And Emotions?

157345088_2e85840cdd_zAlthough the two words are used interchangeably,  there are distinct differences between feelings and emotions.

Ok.  Big deal.

Well, it kind of is a big deal because understanding the difference between the two can help you change unhealthy behaviors and find more happiness and peace in your life.  Feelings and emotions are two sides of the same coin and highly interconnected, but are two very different things.

Emotions are lower level responses occurring in the subcortical regions of the brain, the amygdala and the ventromedial prefrontal cortices, creating  biochemical reactions in your body altering your physical state.  They originally helped our species survive by producing quick reactions to threat, reward, and everything in between in their environments.  Emotional reactions are coded in our genes and while they do vary slightly individually and depending on circumstances, are generally universally similar across all humans and even other species.  For example, you smile and your dog wags its tail.

The amygdala play a role in emotional arousal and regulate the release of neurotransmitters essential for memory consolidation which is why emotional memories can be so much stronger and longer-lasting.  Emotions proceed feelings, are physical, and instinctual. Because they are physical, they can be objectively measured by blood flow, brain activity, facial micro-expressions, and body language.

Feelings originate in the neocortical regions of the brain, are mental associations and reactions to emotions, and are subjective being influenced by personal experience, beliefs, and memories.  A feeling is the mental portrayal of what is going on in your body when you have an emotion and is the byproduct of your brain perceiving and assigning meaning to the emotion.   Feelings are the next thing that happens after having an emotion, involve cognitive input, usually subconscious, and cannot be measured precisely.

Antonio D’Amasio, professor of neuroscience at The University of California and author of several books on the subject,  explains it as:

Feelings are mental experiences of body states, which arise as the brain interprets emotions, themselves physical states arising from the body’s responses to external stimuli. (The order of such events is: I am threatened, experience fear, and feel horror.)

Dr.Sarah Mckay, neuroscientist and author of the Your Brain Health blog explains it as:

Emotions play out in the theater of the body. Feelings play out in the theater of the mind.

Feelings are sparked by emotions and colored by the thoughts, memories, and images that have become subconsciously linked with that particular emotion for you.    But it works the other way around too.   For example, just thinking about something threatening can trigger an emotional fear response.  While individual emotions are temporary, the feelings they evoke may persist and grow over a lifetime.  Because emotions cause subconscious feelings which in turn initiate emotions and so on, your life can become a never-ending cycle of painful and confusing emotions which produce negative feelings which cause more negative emotions without you ever really knowing why.


While basic emotions are instinctual and common to us all, the meanings they take on and the feelings they prompt are individual based on our programming past and present.   Feelings are shaped by a person’s temperament and experiences and vary greatly from person to person and situation to situation.

Your emotions and feelings play a powerful role in how you experience and interact with the world because they are the driving force behind many behaviors, helpful and unhelpful.  It’s possible to react to emotions and the feelings they evoke which are guided by unconscious fear-based perceptions which you may not buy into anymore, yet you’re living your life, making decision and behaving according to these out-dated tendencies.   Living unaware like this almost always leads to problems and unhappiness in the long run.

Putting The Difference To Good Use In Your Life

By understanding the difference between and becoming aware of your emotions and feelings, determining which is which and their root causes, and then inserting conscious thought followed by deliberate action, you can choose how you navigate and experience the world. Being able to do this means responding or reacting which can make the difference in a calm or chaotic life.

I don’t mean to imply that by becoming aware of emotions and feelings and learning to respond rather than react that life will magically become filled with rainbows and butterflies.  I am suggesting that by learning the difference and changing your thinking and behavior, that no matter what is going on around you, you can maintain your balance, your sense of peace, purpose, and hope and move forward toward your goals.

For example in my 18 year marriage, my ex-husband held all the power and control, was emotionally cruel, and uncaring.  In the years following our divorce, he continued the treatment by harassing me legally as he drug me in and out of court for a decade with false allegations of endangering the children, cohabitation, and more.  I learned to fear him and his actions.  It got to the point where if I just saw an email from him in my inbox, my heart would start pounding, my breathing would become rapid and shallow, and I would actually start sweating.  Then, I would soon feel dread, anxious, and worried.  My body was exhibiting the instinctual emotion of fear followed by the feelings I had learned to associate with him.

During the marriage and for years after, I reacted from this fearful place as the overly emotional, angry victim who fought back.  As the years passed after the divorce, I slowly evolved, began to live more mindfully, and learned a different way.  It took years, but I was eventually able to not knee-jerk react to his antics and to consciously and deliberately choose my feelings and behaviors according to who I wanted to be and how I wanted to live my life.  When I mastered this skill, life calmed way down for me, and I managed to find peace and happiness despite the fact that he continued his attacks on me. (See blog:  Bad Things Do Happen To Good People)

While I was in the process of growing, it would frustrate me to no end because my heart would still pound upon just getting a message from him.  I felt like my body was betraying me while, in my head, I knew better and remained calm and confident.  My body still exhibited the emotion, but I inserted conscious thought and instructed myself as to how I wanted to feel and proceed.

In the gaps between emotion, feeling, and acting, we all have the power to change and direct our lives for the better.  Understanding your emotions and managing your feelings with conscious thinking so they don’t hijack your brain followed by conscious action can actually change your brain through neuroplasticity, the scientifically proven ability of your brain to change form and function based on repeated emotion, thought, and behavior, and change your life.

Note – When researching this article I found that there is much differing, contradictory even,  information out there on the subject of emotions and feelings.  My resources for this post primarily come from the work of Antonio D’Amasio and other neuroscience and mental health professionals.  This is one interpretation of feelings and emotions, but is by no means the only “right” one.

Image Source:

The Best Brain Top Five Posts

Happy New Year to you!  Here’s a review of the most frequently viewed posts this past year.   Let’s make the coming  year the best one yet!  :)


shutterstock_85544854The Best Brain Advice From The Brain Experts

I recently asked a group of some of the most knowledgeable leaders in the brain fitness movement – I mean these guys are at the forefront of educating us on brain health and using our brains to achieve wellness and happiness – what their #1 advice would be to someone about taking care of their bain.

You might expect their answers would include serious diet modifications, major lifestyle changes, or a rigorous mental exercise program, eh?  But no.  I think their responses will surprise you because every single one is something you can easily do today, on your own, without making drastic changes, or spending money.  read more


What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Stronger


That quote is attributed to the German philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche.  Actually, he said it much more eloquently: “That which does not kill us, makes us stronger.”  It turns out that he was right.

Studies have shown that some trauma survivors report positive changes and enhanced personal development, called post traumatic growth (PTG).  PTG refers to any beneficial change resulting from a major life crisis or traumatic event, but people most commonly experience a positive shift by having a renewed appreciation for life; adopting a new world view with new possibilities for themselves; feeling more personal strength; feeling more satisfied spiritually, and/or their relationships improve.  read more


158618832_ded5988507_zWhat’s The Difference Between The Mind And Brain 

We all know what our brain is, right? It is that three pounds of “convoluted mass of gray and white matter” in our heads “serving to control and coordinate mental and physical actions.”

OK.  Now, define the mind. Not as easy, eh?! You may be surprised to find that there is no single, agreed upon definition of the mind.  The psychiatric, mental health and medical professions each have their own functional definitions.  Equally surprising to me is that, by default, a healthy mind is generally thought of as one with the absence of any symptoms of mental illness.  Really?  I would hope it can get better than that. read more


14210299167_b437588882_mTrying To Make Everybody Happy But Yourself

Being a people pleaser of the worst kind, I used to try to make others happy and dodge their displeasure at the cost of my own happiness.  With this mentality, I created a world in which I placed my well-being in the hands of others for them to crumple like a piece of paper.

The flip side of people pleasing is resentment and hostility.  Even if people did respond graciously to my efforts, I couldn’t allow myself to genuinely receive their kindness and, instead, stockpiled animosity.  Because I didn’t like myself, I was numb to most consideration that did come my way.  Compliments slid off of me like a Teflon frying pan.  read more    image source:


5245470532_7751f61af6Free Yourself From Mental Slavery

It is possible to break free, think clearly, and go beyond the mental slavery of your mind, but you first have to realize how it controls your outlook, speech, and behaviors.

Your progress toward a mind that truly serves your highest purpose will always depend on your willingness to observe yourself.  When you do that, you’ll start to see where you are giving your freedom away in bits and pieces to this or that momentary master.  read more


Your Fortune Telling Brain

14840675550_db735e2d84_zWhether you’re aware of it or not, your brain is programmed to try to predict the future, and it specializes in pattern detection, threat anticipation, and storytelling.  In other words, it’s your brain’s job to steer you in the direction of what it thinks of as safety, which to your brain means: stability, certainty, and consistency.  So, it processes information from your past experiences, factoring in your current beliefs, looking to connect the dots to recognize anything that might be viewed as a threat, causing you pain, physical or emotional, discomfort, or hardship.

Now, the patterns and forecasts your brain comes up with can have some truth, of course, but what if it can’t find any?  No problem.  It just makes them up.

Your brain has a natural compulsion to connect experiences, symbols, images, and ideas to make sense of its environment to ensure the survival of the species.  It’s only because your brain is so complex that it can do this and without it, our species would have died off long ago, but that doesn’t mean it’s correct.

In all circumstances, your brain craves a reason for a good reason.

In the harsh world of our ancestors, decoding clues quickly and figuring out, for instance whether the rustling in the bushes was a bird or a big cat, could mean the difference between going home to dinner or being dinner.

Similarly, today your brain is still always trying to figure out someone’s intentions, connect what may be random events, and assign causation.   This hardwired tendency has generally served us well, but it also causes a lot of unnecessary pain and anxiety as our brains jump to assumptions, make something out of nothing, and try to find a cause which leads to placing blame.

While this fortune telling skill may make your brain happy, it doesn’t make you happy.  So, what can you do about it?

First of all, become aware of your brain’s fortune telling penchant.  Then, become aware of your thoughts, any assumptions you may make, and causal relationships you give to events. Practicing mindfulness helps slant your brain back in your favor.

One of the four agreements in Don Miguel’s The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom (A Toltec Wisdom Book) is:  Don’t make assumptions.  He believes it is one of the most important basics for finding peace and happiness in life.  Remember that when you do make assumptions, you’re seeing things from your subjective frame of reference influenced by your beliefs and brain which may have very little to do with the actual circumstances or other person.  (See: How Your Brain Creates Your Reality)

In the book What Makes Your Brain Happy and Why You Should Do the Opposite, David DiSalvo writes:

This is no trivial issue.  People spend enormous time and money investing themselves in complex belief systems built on little more than coincidental toothpicks.  The key is to value our brains remarkable capacity for pattern detection while exercising vigilance about how we apply this ability in our lives.

DiSalvo cites our brain’s wanting to find meaning and causation as fueling the hugely popular self-help and new age trends especially books like The Secret and The Celestine Prophecy. Their “think yourself rich” mantras capitalize on your brain’s fortune telling tendency.

While he may be right from a neuroscientific stand point and while I don’t believe it’s anywhere near as easy as “thinking yourself rich,” I know for sure that your intentions, beliefs, and perspectives have everything to do with your happiness and outcomes in life.

In the blog, Believe It To see It, I write:

However, let’s assume for a minute that there is some truth to the concept [of “thinking yourself rich”].  If you are constantly thinking about how you don’t have enough money and all the bills piling up, how do you think these thoughts are going to influence your reality if they do even a little bit?   If you worry unrelentingly about getting cancer and freak out at every little thing, what kind of energy are these thoughts emitting and subjecting your body to?

Conversely, if money is tight, but you focus on your competence and the abundance that’s present in your life otherwise, how’s this going to influence your reality?

Although I don’t see  it doing anyone much good to make a story board with a picture of a convertible BMW and sit around imagining the wind whipping their hair as they drive it, I know that thinking and acting positively make a huge difference towards achieving goals and finding joy.  It has worked wonders in my own life.  My recommendation here would be to practice mindfulness, detachment, and openness.

You have to become aware of your brain’s biases, your beliefs, and consider the alternate routes and possibilities.  Then pair positive thinking with positive doing.

image source:

Why Your Eyes Look Up And Your Tongue Tenses When You Think

beautiful womanWhen thinking, you often just naturally roll your eyes up and your tongue tenses in your mouth. Ever wonder why you do these things?  There are real physical reasons for both.

Go Ahead…Roll Your Eyes

Rolling your eyes up is an automatic response the body makes when trying to access lost or hidden information because doing this causes alpha waves in your brain. The production of alpha waves is physiologically linked to the movement of the eyes. and if you close your eyes and roll them up, you’ll churn out even more alpha waves.

Making alpha waves is a good thing as they are present in a relaxed state of awareness, such as in a day dreaming mind.  An alpha brain state is between waking and sleeping and provides a bridge to the subconscious mind.  Alpha brain waves allow for vivid, lucid imagery and assist in creativity and insight.

Eye rolling has long been used as a meditation technique because it more quickly leads to an altered state of consciousness and the theta brain waves sought after in deep meditation.

For some creative inspiration, a relaxing break in your day, or a meditation tip, you can kick-start your brain’s alpha waves by doing this simple but profound technique.   Anna Wise suggests specific exercises her book Awakening the Mind: A Guide to Harnessing the Power of Your Brainwaves:

  • With your eyes closed, inhale and gently raise your eyes to look toward the center of your forehead.
  • When you exhale, lower your eyes.
  • Again when you inhale, gently raise your eyes behind closed eyelids.
  • And when you exhale, lower your eyes again.
  • Repeat for three or four more breaths.

It’s the movement of the eyes that causes the production of alpha waves.  So, you don’t want to continuously hold your eyes up.  After a few minutes, the alpha producing quality of this action diminishes, and your eye muscles are delicate and easy to tire.

Thinking With Your Tongue

When people think, they have a tendency to talk to themselves.  Even if you are not consciously aware of this subvocalization, your body, more specifically, your tongue is.  It will tense up when you’re thinking, ready for action.

You may experience this as a general stiffness of your  tongue.  It may lift up off of the floor of your mouth, pull at the back of your throat, move as if talking, or you may not feel it consciously at all. If you relax your tongue completely, it’s very difficult to talk to yourself.

Go ahead, I know you have to try it.  :)

Relaxing your tongue makes it much more difficult to think. 

This simple technique can help stop your internal chatter and quiet your mind when you just need a moment of peace or when meditating.  Relaxing your tongue radically reduces the production of thinking beta brain waves and stills the mind.

Relaxing the tongue is such an effective practice that, in her book, Awakening the Mind: A Guide to Harnessing the Power of Your Brainwaves, Anna Wise writes, “If you take nothing else away with you from reading this book, you will have gained enormously from this one practice. “

She offers the following exercises:

  • Close your eyes and allow your tongue to relax.
  • No one will be looking at you, so it’s OK to let your mouth hang open slightly.
  • Just simply let your tongue go, especially the back of your tongue.
  • As you exhale, feel it let go even more.
  • Exaggerate the relaxation.
  • Exaggerate it again.
  • You can almost feel your tongue floating in the cavity of your mouth.
  • You may feel it shorten some – or thicken.
  • Exaggerate the relaxation even more.
  • Focus on only relaxing your tongue – nothing else.

I can’t help but think of a Labrador Retriever about now.  Maybe we could learn something from them?  They always look pretty happy!