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Book Review: Habits of a Happy Brain

January 27, 2016 by Diane

I thought I’d start including book reviews on my site while I’m still off fishing. Here’s my most recent. Let me know if you like this feature!

Habits of a Happy Brain

I’ve read several books on rewiring the brain to overcome anxiety and depression by changing our thoughts. And goodness knows there’s a plethora of books on happiness. So I was pleased to discover a new angle on both subjects, because frankly, I’m stressed, and I would love to have those feel-good chemicals zipping around my body instead of the cortisol and adrenaline that I manufacture in Costco proportions.

Imagine how delighted I was to discover that I can train my brain to switch on those happy chemicals and increase my feeling of well-being. What a nifty trick! I was eager to find out how.

To begin with, the brain, I learned, has a big job to do: ensuring my survival. Which it seems to be doing rather seriously, ringing all those alarm bells 24/7. But when it sees something good for me, it shoots out those feel-good chemicals: dopamine, endorphin, oxytocin, and serotonin. Yay! The problem is, they don’t last long. Boo. They fizzle out and turn off. Pfft. Gone. And once again, my mammalian brain is back to scanning the environment for danger. Which it finds. Daily. In the news. On the radio. In the mirror. In my imagination.

So how do I keep more of those feel-good chemicals active? Thankfully, this book explains the process. The author takes the reader through an explanation of how and why the mammal brain works the way it does, why it creates unhappiness, how new experiences stimulate the happy guys, and how to rewire the brain through 45 days of new habits.

Wait, 45 days? I thought it only took 21 days to learn a new habit.

Well, apparently 45 days is the required amount of time to boost these chemicals, so 45 days it is.

But first, I need to know which of the good guys I’m lacking. Is it dopamine, that rewards me when I get what I need? Is it endorphin, that allows me to ignore pain? Is it oxytocin, that enables me to trust others and find safety in companionship? Or is it serotonin, motivating me to get respect?

Well, let’s face it, I want more than 38 subscribers to my blog. And more than two retweets on my tweets. But isn’t that just an ego thing? Or is it a lack of serotonin?

And yeah, I feel lonely, even though I’m around people every day. So maybe oxytocin is what I need.

And I’m definitely aware of every twinge in my body, so it’s clear my endorphins aren’t doing their job.

And I don’t always get what I need, or at least I don’t feel like I always get what I need, or have the time to achieve all that I want, so is lack of dopamine the culprit?

The good news is, once I figure out which happy chemicals I’m short on, I can use the tools in this book to balance and easily access all four. How cool is that!

My take? If  you struggle with anxiety or depression and want to feel more in control of your happiness, this is a book you might want to read. I also recommend it to ye who are fascinated by neuroscience and how to rewire the brain. Uh, that would be me.


  1. Bun Karyudo says:

    That sounds like an interesting book. I’ve heard before of the four chemicals you mentioned, of course, but I didn’t have much idea of what specifically their roles are. I just know I prefer them to adrenalin, which I’ve never been a big fan of. I can’t believe some people go out actively seeking it.

    • Diane says:

      Yeah, adrenaline isn’t at the top of my list of favorites either. To some folks it feels like excitement. To me, it feels like torture.

      You’ve got the good chemicals in spades, Bun. After all, you’re the happy-go-lucky train-commuting blogger with the paper bag on his head, right?

      • Tonya says:

        I know adrenaline from the asthma side of the experience, where they inject you with epinephrine to help open the airways (i.e. during very bad asthma attacks). It gives me severe jitters that way, and apparently I’ve become sensitive to it, so have to ask my dentists NOT to use numbing agents with the epi component because it brings on something akin to a Vegas nerve reaction–full-body sweat and palpitations with wooziness. There are a lot of reasons not to like it for me… 😛

      • Bun Karyudo says:

        I think I have some of the happy chemicals swirling about under the paper bag, Diane. I notice, though, that I seem to have a lot more of them on the train journey away from work than on the journey toward it. 🙂

  2. Nancy Clark says:

    This book review was good timing. A family member just spent three weeks in the hospital for severe depression, so I’m hoping that the suggestions for encouraging the happy chemicals will be helpful — both to her and to me as I struggle with how best to help her.

    The lingering question about depression, however, is how does one who is depressed find the motivation to improve the situation since depression usually robs oneself of motivation? Does anyone have an answer to that dilemma?

    • Diane says:

      Yes, that is a dilemma, which can be frustrating to those who love the one who is depressed, and difficult for the one who is struggling with depression. Sometimes just getting out of bed is all the person can handle, and that’s good. That’s a start.

      I’ll be on the lookout for books that touch on this, and if I find something I’ll let you know. In the meantime, I recommend neuropsychologist Rick Hanson’s CD “Meditations to Change Your Brain.” It offers short visualizations, or meditations, to “rebuild” the brain for happiness, including a technique for “taking in the good.” You might want to get a copy and play the CD for your family member as he or she lies in bed.

      Another technique that’s useful is what Abraham/Hicks calls “moving up the emotional scale.” The idea is to choose a thought that makes you feel a little better than where you are currently on the scale. Here’s how it works…

      The bottom of the scale is fear/grief/depression/despair/ powerlessness, and the top is joy/knowledge/empowerment/love/appreciation. There are 20 emotional steps in between. Obviously, when someone is in a depressed state, they can’t snap out of it and be happy. But it’s possible to move up one step, to guilt/insecurity/unworthiness by thinking: “I feel guilty that I’m lying in bed all the time. I know I’m being a burden to others.” If that thought makes them feel slightly better, then they might move up to the next step, jealousy, by thinking: “I wish I could be happy like other people.” And then to the next step of hatred/rage, by thinking: “I hate this demon that shadows me! I want it out of my life!” And so on, gradually moving up the scale thought by thought, as far as it’s possible to go at any one time. Maybe the person can only get as far as anger. That’s okay. There’s energy in anger.

      Here’s a link to the scale if you’re interested.

      Good luck! Let us know how it’s going.

  3. Paula says:

    I like this new feature! Yes! Do more!

  4. Joan says:

    Like this!!! And it’s good to see you back!

  5. Lynette Elayne says:

    Does the book actually help you figure out which chemicals you were lacking? Does it help you with ways to increase these chemicals as well?

    • Diane says:

      Yes and yes. The book has exercises to fill out that help you become aware of when you’re feeling each chemical, and exercises to help you reprogram your brain to turn on, or boost, each chemical.

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