"The Neuroscience of Happiness: Do hard things and be happy”
I’m not much of a writer and my HR language isn’t always HR so my title would be a little different if we were having a good coaching conversation in person. Much of my coaching work is helping people develop new habits and achieve very audacious goals, and in every case, this involves doing difficult things. Built into my coaching is the message that achieving difficult things isn’t just a great thing for your career, it also creates a significant amount of happiness and who doesn’t want that?
Happiness is a complex emotion, tied to our brain's intricate workings. Surprisingly, the path to joy often involves tackling challenging endeavors. In this exploration of the neuroscience of happiness, we dig into the profound impact of doing hard things and draw inspiration from the transformative journey of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s trip to Antarctica.
Neuroscience tells us that the brain's reward system plays a pivotal role in our experience of happiness. When we face and conquer challenges, our brain releases neurotransmitters like dopamine, creating a sense of achievement and pleasure. This phenomenon is commonly referred to as the "reward pathway."
A compelling example of happiness emerging from adversity is Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's expedition to Antarctica. The famed author of Sherlock Holmes, Conan Doyle, embarked on a perilous journey in 1901, joining the Discovery Expedition led by Captain Robert Falcon Scott. He claims that his overall success in life could be attributed to surviving this journey.
Antarctica, with its harsh conditions and uncharted territories, presented an unparalleled challenge. Conan Doyle, initially unprepared for the physical demands, embraced the difficulties with resilience and determination. As the team faced extreme cold, isolation, and the constant threat of danger, the struggle became a catalyst for personal and collective growth.
Neuroplasticity, the brain's ability to reorganize itself by forming new neural connections, plays a crucial role in the pursuit of happiness through challenging experiences. Overcoming obstacles stimulates neuroplastic changes, fostering adaptability and resilience. Conan Doyle's Antarctic expedition exemplifies this as the challenges reshaped his perspective and outlook on life.
Accomplishing difficult tasks activates the brain's reward system, releasing endorphins and reinforcing positive emotions. Conan Doyle, upon conquering the formidable Antarctic conditions, experienced a profound sense of accomplishment that transcended the physical hardships.
Conan Doyle's journey also highlights the importance of social connection in the pursuit of happiness. The camaraderie developed during the expedition, forged through shared challenges, contributed significantly to the overall positive experience. Most people highly underestimate the need for purposeful social connections.
Understanding the neuroscience of happiness through challenging experiences allows us to apply these principles in our own lives. Embracing difficult tasks, cultivating resilience, and fostering social bonds can lead to a more fulfilling and joyful existence.
The neuroscience of happiness invites us to embrace challenges as opportunities for growth and transformation. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's expedition to Antarctica serves as a poignant example, illustrating how facing the unknown can reshape our brains and contribute to a profound sense of joy. As we navigate life's challenges, let us remember that happiness often lies on the other side of adversity, waiting to be discovered through the triumph of overcoming hard things. So go do some hard sh*!, shift your career into another gear and gain a little more happiness along your own journey.