Happiness imageThe Milwaukee Brewers are on board. Even UW Madison leaders are doing it. What are they doing?

Getting happy. Certainly you’ve heard Pharrell’s hit song “Happy”, but that isn’t all there is to it. Happiness isn’t something just in a song—rather it’s a skill that can be learned! Just ask Dr. Richard J. Davidson, a professor of psychology and psychiatry at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. His research has demonstrated that “happiness is best regarded as a skill” and that the human brain can learn to become happier and more compassionate. In fact, his experiments have demonstrated that people who practice compassion for 30 minutes a day have shown actual changes in both their brains and behavioral patterns.

“We can actually take more responsibility for our minds and brains and cultivate healthy habits of mind. Through that we can change our brains in ways that actually promote well-being.”

How? He suggests taking the time to think about a person in your life who may be suffering and then think about your wish and hope that they be relieved from their suffering. Davidson says simply recognizing that everyone shares a desire to be happy can make you more generous and helpful. Having these thoughts for just a few minutes a day for a few weeks can create measurable changes in the brain. Davidson likens this process to working out a muscle—it requires continuous practice.

Davidson explains more in the following video (18 minutes – perfect for over lunch!):


Davidson practices what he preaches, spending a few minutes each morning reflecting on how he can be helpful to individuals he meets with throughout the day, which leaves him feeling “nourished and energized” — even after long hours. “Our brains are primed for this, and it doesn’t take much to nudge us in healthier directions,” he said. “With a little bit of training, I think we can make a profound difference.”

If you’d like to learn more about Davidson’s research, here is a one-hour talk he gave to Google on his research:

What are you doing to practice happiness?

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